Yasir Hussain

Despite the fact that India, in any case, is not eligible to become a full-fledged member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), United States still leads the push for former’s bid. How Ironic, the then London Group (now NSG) was established in response to Indian maiden nuclear test in 1974. However, China strongly reacted to this new ball game by saying that India’s NSG entry shall not be a “farewell gift.”

For decades India has refused to sign nuclear nonproliferation regime (NPT), adherence to which is necessary for NSG membership. Surprisingly India aims to enter in the elite nuclear club but reluctant to sign NPT rather, continues to produce fissile material. In a clear contrast to its global commitment, last month, India successfully test-fired nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Agni-V which has a strike range of over 5,000 kilometers. India has breached UN accord by testing ICBM, and it will further undermine its credibility as a serious contender for NSG membership.

Last year, PM Modi’s personal drive for membership met with disappointing results when Vienna Plenary meeting of NSG ended without reaching any consensus. India held China responsible for its firm opposition yet, the number of other NSG members including Austria, Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Turkey, and South Africa opposed India’s application. But it’s pertinent to understand the public statement that issued on June 24 last year, following its plenary in Seoul, the NSG said that the “participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and efficient implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.” It means NSG member-states including the United States agrees on the “effective implementation of NPT” as a prerequisite for NSG entry. Hence, India’s quest to achieve great power status by securing its position in NSG members is turning into a wild goose chase.

Despite the technical, legal and political sensitivities, there have been consistent efforts primarily from the US to accord India (a non-NPT signatory) elite club’s membership. According to the Arms Control Association, (ACA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, former chairman of the NSG, now acting Chairman, prepared a two-page document, explaining how a non-NPT state, like India and Pakistan, could join an elite group. Mr. Grossi’s draft proposal suggests that “one non-NPT member state should reach an understanding not to block consensus on membership for another non-NPT member state.”

Daryl G. Kimball, the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association says “the formula outlined in Grossi’s draft note sets an extremely low bar on NSG membership and its wording is vague and open to broad interpretation” He further argues that “this formula would not require India to take any additional nonproliferation commitments beyond the steps to which it committed in September 2008 ahead of the NSG’s country-specific exemption for India for civil nuclear trade.”

It means the draft proposal by Grossi which seeks “India in” and “Pakistan out,” is limited in its scope as well as discriminatory in its practice. Pakistan which has also submitted its application to join NSG rejected Grossi Formula. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson stated, “this (Grossi Formula) would be clearly discriminatory and would contribute nothing regarding furthering the non-proliferation objectives of the NSG.”

Earlier, a group of 18 prominent nuclear nonproliferation experts has expressed “grave concerns” and “opposition” to the proposals that could grant membership to non-NPT states. Hence draft proposals such as the one formulated by Grossi is not only India-specific but also promotes discriminatory attitude towards other countries. Such practices will undermine the efficacy of NSG particularly in a complex global structure where the risk of nuclear material falls into the hands of non-state actors is increasing. Recently, Indian law enforcing agencies have seized 9kg of depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive material used in nuclear weapons. It also puts a question mark on India’s nuclear safety and security arrangements.

Pakistan is pressing for a criterion-based approach due to two primary reasons. First, If India gets NSG membership, it will destabilize South Asian nuclear equilibrium. Though India remains outside NPT, but still, it has been receiving foreign nuclear assistance as a result of 2008 NSG waiver, whereas Pakistan has been kept out of the similar arrangement.

Secondly, NSG status for India is more of a political motivation than actual need. NSG membership is a tool towards India’s greater share in global nuclear policy making. If Indian bid for NSG gets acceptance, its nuclear program will be legitimized without its adherence to essential prerequisites. In the case of admittance to NSG, New Delhi would negatively affect the current dynamic of the group—unless India demonstrates an active commitment to the nonproliferation regime.

The fundamental purpose of nuclear arrangements is to lead nuclear weapon states towards global nuclear disarmament and also to ensure peaceful usage of technology. An India-centric amendment would harm NSG’s reputation, and the countries who gave up their nuclear weapon capabilities for a greater cause would feel betrayed. Therefore glittering economic incentives in India should not blind “West” to the extent that they could undermine the credibility of NSG. Instead, the U.S.-led block should work to strengthen nonproliferation commitments. Both India and Pakistan have applied for membership hence, a criteria-based selection instead of country-specific approach seems a more viable option.

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