28th NSG Plenary: National Interests or Non-proliferation Norms

By: Ahyousha Khan      14/6/2018

Another year has elapsed, and future of South Asian non-NPT states aspiring to become a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group is still hanging in the air. Now as 28th NSG plenary is approaching, the time has come to see whether the efforts made by India and Pakistan will be fruitful or not.

But before jumping to the analysis of both countries’ individual efforts for securing the NSG membership, a fact to reckon is, currently the NSG is rising as an export control cartel which is serving the vested interests of its member states rather than global non-proliferation norms. It is a group of 48 members initially designed to regulate nuclear export control because of the fear that bilateral agreements and NPT are not enough to stop possible proliferators from diverting civilian nuclear technology for military uses. Furthermore, the concern which resulted in the creation of the NSG (initially named London Suppliers Group) was the byproduct of Indian nuclear test of 1974, commonly known as Smiling Buddha. To conduct this test, India used the fuel from Trombay nuclear plant then reprocessed it at CIRUS plant, which was the violation of Indian-Canadian agreement under which CIRUS was given to India. Thus, it was Indian so-called peaceful nuclear explosion which led to the creation of NSG because of lack of NPT capability to stop nuclear proliferation.

There is no denying the fact that international system is based on states which work towards the acquisition of their national interests and sometimes these interests are acquired at the expense of others. When it comes to the national interests of states, it cannot be expected of them to let go of their national interests because of the more significant benefit of the international system. This brings us to the question of what would be the standing of international regimes and norms in comparison to the national interests of the states. Linked to it is the issue that where would the NSG stand, which claims to be the regime to control nuclear trade to stop its usage for the proliferation of nuclear weapons after its members choose to follow their national interests rather than international norms. Indeed the importance of national interests for the states cannot be denied in the wake of events happening in the non-proliferation world since more than two decades, especially the NSG waiver to India which illustrates that the US under the imperatives of its strategic, economic and political interests is in favor to grant NSG membership to India.
India, on the other hand, believes that it qualifies for the NSG membership because of its so-called exemplary non-proliferation record. Thus it should have acceded into the export control cartel by the merit-based approach. Recently, India is also supported by Germany in its quest, where it was said that Indian inclusion in NSG would boost export control regime. Yes, Indian integration into NSG might encourage export control regime because of the market that India will provide to the exporters, but will that inclusion be equally beneficial for non-proliferation norms, is the question that the pundits of nuclear export control cartels must answer.

If states which are not a member of NPT can be included into the NSG then what was the point to make that rule in the first place. It means that rules and norms are nothing but a façade and can be changed with the change in the interests of the states. Pakistan is also a non-NPT signatory state striving to become a member of NSG; it believes in the criteria based approach if countries which are not a party to the NPT are being given a chance to become part of the NSG. However, a significant aspect of Pakistan’s application is that it adheres to IAEA Safeguards, self-sufficiency in nuclear technology and adherence to conventions like CPPNM (Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Facilities). Pakistan is not a big market like India for nuclear energy projects, but it is a market with an enormous potential for green energy in the backdrop of its growing energy needs. Thus, it is necessary for the NSG to develop a criterion which should be equally applicable to all the members rather than playing “pick and choose,” as it will only increase the states’ mistrust in the international regimes. Moreover, it encourages states to resort to other means to fulfill their energy requirements. It is about time that international community must realize that preferential treatment to India will not boost NSG as export control regime.
Lastly, developing an approach which could entail changing dynamics of international system would boost the NSG as export control system rather than preferential treatments given to one actor. As national interests are also not static, there may come a time when they change. So, to keep the integrity of these international systems intact, the 28th NSG plenary must take actions based on the goals and objectives of the group and equal chances must be given to all potential members.

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