India’s ambitious bid to become the member of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) failed on 11th November, as not only China but at least seven other countries also blocked consensus at the elite group, which controls transfer of nuclear technology in the world. Indian media considered it a major setback to India, though in the light of China’s stance it was a foregone conclusion that India would not be allowed entry in the NSG. As regards the rules for entry of non-signatories of the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the group, the NSG unanimously agreed to consider NPT as the “cornerstone” of international non-proliferation regime.
China was particularly opposed to India’s entry in the group, as once India became member, it would never allow Pakistan’s entry in the NSG. India had challenged Pakistan’s entry into the group taking the plea that Pakistan was involved in atomic proliferation. Historical evidence suggested that all nuclear states were involved in proliferation covertly during the course of their efforts to achieve nuclear capability. Therefore, China defended Pakistan stating that it was Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan who was responsible for atomic proliferation, and he was not backed by Pakistan’s government. China argued that any exemption to India for NSG entry should also be given to Pakistan.
Along with Switzerland, Brazil and Turkey, Mexico also pressed for a “criteria-based process” for allowing non-NPT members into the NSG. New Delhi was surprised as Mexico and Switzerland had promised support during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit a few weeks ago. Moreover, Brazil, which is part of the grouping BRICS, did not support India’s application for membership. Perhaps, Brazil had realised that China’s negative vote could veto the decision. Reportedly, Turkey was the only country to push for clubbing both India and Pakistan’s applications together directly.
Last week, Lu Kang, spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry, in a press briefing had said: “NSG’s plenary session will be held on Friday in Vienna. As of now, there’s no change in our position.” Although India’s effort for its membership into the group has Washington’s support, China remained reluctant, insisting that ratifying the NPT was a prerequisite for new entrants. In the group’s meeting in June 2016, the matter could not be resolved, as there was no consensus on the inclusion of India or any other country into the group. China is seen as leading opposition to the US move to include India in the 48-nation NSG, but other countries including New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa and Austria also opposed Indian membership. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, have applied for membership of the group.
But both of them have not signed the nuclear disarmament treaty. Whereas India is trying hard to get exception, China insists on making no exception for India. The US views India as a vast market and a potential counterweight to China’s assertiveness in Asia; yet it has apprehensions that India may use fuel covertly for weapons purposes. It was in this backdrop that America had demanded tracking the whereabouts of material supplied to the country, which was meant to ensure that India does not divert nuclear materials to production of nuclear weapons. Extension of specific exemption to India by the US was harmful to the norms of NPT and other regimes. Following the NSG waiver by the US, India had signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia.
It has to be mentioned that the pact between the US and India exempts military facilities and stockpiles of nuclear fuel from scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog. India had remained outside the international nuclear mainstream since it misused Canadian and US peaceful nuclear assistance to conduct its 1974 nuclear bomb test. It had refused to sign the NPT, and conducted additional nuclear tests in 1998. But the US and the West want to sell weapons and materials, and India has cash to buy those weapons. In December 2015, India and Japan had sealed a broad agreement for cooperation in civil nuclear energy with the final deal to be signed after certain technical and legal issues were thrashed out. Last week, India and Japan have signed a full-fledged agreement, which will also make it easier for US-based nuclear plant makers.
Some diplomats had argued that the Japanese government should not enter into a civil nuclear agreement with a country that has not committed to the NPT, and moreover, its record of nuclear safety is not satisfactory. Despite Dr Khan’s episode, Pakistan is considered a responsible nuclear state, and has contributed towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures, which is acknowledged by the IAEA. Last year, US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottenmoeller told a congressional panel: “Pakistan has really done an excellent job of establishing a programme for nuclear security.” Having said that, the nuclear deal between the US and India has disturbed the balance of power in South Asia. At least eight out of 22 reactors would remain outside the regime, which means that material sought for 14 reactors could be diverted to the other eight reactors in India.
In April 2016, an independent US report declared the Indian nuclear programme not only unsafe but also called for a satisfactory international oversight. The report by the Belfer Centre at the Harvard Kennedy School identified problems arising from the gaps in the commitments that India made after the nuclear deal, and focused on India’s Nuclear Separation Plan, its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.
The authors of the report titled “The Three Overlapping Streams of India’s Nuclear Programmes” further highlighted that Pakistan had a reason to be concerned that India could use its unsafeguarded portions for boosting its nuclear weapon system. The report observes that India is currently running three streams that include civilian safeguarded, civilian un-safeguarded, and military. It suggested that India’s civilian nuclear programme should be separated from its military nuclear programme.