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India’s NSG Bid: The Next Round

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  • July 27, 2016

    India’s attempt to become a participating government of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was thwarted at the 2016 plenary in Seoul, principally because of opposition from China. Despite the initial impediment, this is not a permanent setback. It is significant that the NSG has taken up India’s application, implying thereby that the export control group has initiated the process. China has even indicated that there is space for negotiations, and a possible solution can be reached. International non-proliferation experts like Mark Hibbs suggest that irrespective of the existing “dilemma,” India could consider meeting “specific criteria or approach certain benchmarks as a condition for membership” to the NSG.

    An important prerequisite for India’s membership has already occurred: There is a gradual reconsideration of the earlier position that India must be a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to become an NSG member. However, the argument that India ought to sign the NPT before being considered for NSG membership remains persuasive for China, the country that primarily opposed Indian membership. Thus, it is important to understand why India does not sign the NPT.

    India has made it clear that it will not accept the NPT as the treaty propagates discrimination between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. India will not sign the NPT “as a non-nuclear weapon state.” However, acceptance of its nuclear weapon status might impact the current discourse in New Delhi. As for the NSG, its aim must be to have all supplier states abide by its established guidelines. It thus remains for the international nonproliferation regime to decide between having a responsible, nuclear-capable state like India consistently upholding the nonproliferation objectives inside the tent, or keeping it out.

    A re-look at the need for India’s NSG admission is essential for practical reasons. The primary rationale for re-negotiation is that India is an emerging “competitive supplier” of nuclear items and technologies that has utility in building nuclear reactors. India has extensive skills in uranium mining and mineral processing facilities, and is seriously exploring possibilities for international collaboration in developing uranium-mining opportunities abroad. Having India within the NSG would ensure that Indian domestic export controls and safeguard agreements will continue to comply with NSG standards. Furthermore, with an advanced civilian nuclear energy program, India’s integration with the NSG could encourage it to use its nuclear energy program to more substantially contribute toward addressing the challenge of climate change.

    Incorporating India into the NSG would strongly align with the IAEA’s preference that the NSG should remain open to supplier countries, in accordance with strengthening international non-proliferation efforts. Thus, New Delhi must continue to emphasize the economic and security benefits of its membership into the NSG, and India and global powers must encourage China to depoliticize what ought to be a net gain for the international non-proliferation effort.

    In fact, non-proliferation experts suggest that India may consider certain principles, notably adherence to NPT Articles I and VI and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), if granted NSG membership. Established records show that India is committed to Article I by not contributing to an unauthorized transfer of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Further, India has pledged not to be a source for transferring enrichment and reprocessing technologies to any non-nuclear-weapon state, or assist any state to develop nuclear weapons. Additionally, India has undertaken several supplementary efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and materials. India has joined the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) that seeks to protect nuclear facilities and safeguards. India has also taken additional steps to further strengthen its existing legislative and regulatory mechanisms to prevent proliferation, such as by amending the The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 to enhance punishment for any unauthorized possession of any weapons of mass destruction. It also passed the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems Act of 2005 (WMD Act) that criminalizes any transfer of WMDs, missiles specially designed for their delivery, and WMD-usable materials, equipment and technologies.

    In 2013, India tightened its export controls by updating its Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) list to the standards of existing NSG and MTCR lists. The SCOMET list even contains provisions “more stringent than those practiced by the NSG and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).” Clearly, India has done a great deal to signal its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, and it seems disingenuous for China and other countries to refuse Indian membership into the NSG on the grounds that it will have harmful implications for nonproliferation efforts.

    As regards Article VI, India has persistently championed the case of global nuclear disarmament through several arms control and disarmament measures. While actively demanding for reduced salience upon nuclear weapons, India has annually insisted, in the United National General Assembly, on the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons. India has a no-first-use policy in place, indicating its restraint on any nuclear weapons use. India has supported the Non-Aligned Movement’s nuclear disarmament efforts, and has declared September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. It has agreed to convene a United Nations high-level international conference by 2018 to assess the progress achieved in nuclear disarmament. On the Fissile Material Cut Off-Treaty, India has agreed to work with the United States to facilitate early commencement of negotiations on the Treaty in the Conference of Disarmament. Also, India is in de facto observance of the CTBT by maintaining its unilateral moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.

    India has consistently demonstrated that it is “like-minded” with the other 48 members of the NSG in undertaking effective measures to prevent nuclear proliferation. Though other members’ political and geopolitical motivations have impeded India’s efforts, India has taken extensive unilateral measures toward advancing its non-proliferation goals. Additionally, India might reconsider its position on the CTBT. Since both the United States and China have signed the Treaty, and India will certainly not conduct a nuclear test ab initio unless its national interests are jeopardized (such as in the event of a future nuclear test by China), a revisit to the CTBT debate may be desirable. India’s non-proliferation credentials and commitment towards nuclear disarmament is exemplary. Furthermore, India’s admission into the NSG would benefit the global community in having a credible member strongly committed to non-proliferation objectives. Thus, New Delhi should continue to pursue NSG membership, and current members ought to reconsider their objections, especially with India’s extensive de facto compliance with measures of Article I and VI of the NPT.

    The article was originally published in the South Asian Voices

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