Nuclear Suppliers Group: Pakistan’s Options

With the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary meeting next week, debate on the possible inclusion of non-NPT states is gaining momentum, with some opposing the membership, while others suggesting criteria to accommodate non-NPT signatories into the NSG fold. India and Pakistan have formally applied, while Israel is still contemplating, mindful of being left outside the mainstream nonproliferation regime while other states with similar credentials are brought in. If India alone is allowed to become a member of the NSG while Pakistan remains outside, this would not only undermine global nonproliferation norms but cause countries like Pakistan to question the value of engaging with the nonproliferation regime.

Though Pakistan’s ongoing political and diplomatic efforts are intended to create space for itself in the NSG, it does qualify for civil nuclear trade in legal terms. While submitting its application for NSG membership, Pakistan outlined its credentials such as harmonization of its export control lists with those of the international export control regimes, its efforts to ensure nuclear security and safety, and its adherence to NSG guidelines. Thus, the induction of Pakistan would be a step towards strengthening the global nonproliferation regime.

Even though Pakistan wishes to be included in the NSG on the basis of merit, it also wants to draw attention to the issue of discrimination in the group’s membership. India is being treated on favorable terms, with waivers granted to accommodate it. This despite the fact that India’s diversion of nuclear material and equipment for the so-called peaceful explosion of 1974 was the prime reason behind the creation of the NSG. Also called “London Club” at the time, it was created to prevent the diversion of nuclear material from civilian trade to military purposes, with seven suppliers of advanced nuclear technology, i.e. United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan, West Germany, and Soviet Union, getting together to form a cartel to control nuclear technology supplied for peaceful uses. India violated its obligations with Canada, diverting plutonium from the Canadian-Indian reactor that was being run by U.S. heavy-water, which was provided purely for peaceful purposes.

If India is included in the NSG

If India is brought into the NSG and Pakistan is left out, it would be another act of discrimination based on short-sighted commercial and strategic interests. India has not fulfilled its major commitments given to the United States as part of the 2005 civil nuclear deal such as working for the conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and separating its military and civilian reactors. Yet, it is again being considered for exceptional treatment. Contrary to its promise that it will work towards the conclusion of FMCT, India has not even considered unilateral moratorium to freeze its fissile material production. According to a recent report by the Belfer Center, India seems to have done the opposite, and expanded its fissile material production capacity. Instead of discouraging India, the United States and other major suppliers that have entered into nuclear cooperation agreements with it are pleading India’s case for NSG membership.

Options for Pakistan

  • In view of the strong opposition from several countries, it is likely that both India and Pakistan may not be accepted into the NSG in the immediate future. However, if the United States once again coerces the NSG participating governments, as it did in 2008, Pakistan would not have any choice but to review its engagement with the international nonproliferation regime, which is increasingly becoming a tool to serve only the interests of major powers;
  • As a responsible nuclear state and a country in dire need of nuclear technology to meet its growing energy needs, Pakistan wants to remain constructively engaged with the global nonproliferation regime, so that along with China, it qualifies for civil trade with other states also. Nevertheless, this relationship cannot be based on unilateral commitments and obligations;
  • After the India-specific NSG exemption in 2008, India reportedly began an expansion of its nuclear program. It is believed that since civilian facilities were supplied with foreign fuel, India had the option of using its indigenous stockpiles for military purposes. This seems to have helped India’s bomb-making potential, and has disturbed regional balance. Pakistan should continue to take measures to ensure that strategic stability is maintained, without getting into an arms race;
  • The other option for Pakistan could be to start a diplomatic campaign to convince the NSG members of its needs and capabilities, and simultaneously highlight India’s non-adherence of the promises made as part of the nuclear deal with the United States;
  • Pakistan should continue nuclear cooperation with China, while also focusing on economic development to attract other nuclear vendors to explore commercial benefits in the country;
  • Pakistan too should not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT) unless it is assured that its strategic interest and regional security will be taken care of;
  • Pakistan should not give in to Western “double standards”, and keep calling for an unbiased criteria-based approach for inclusion into the NSG group;
  • Last but not the least, Pakistan can wait for a more appropriate time to secure membership, while it continues to pursue a normative approach to international nonproliferation efforts.

Pakistan desires NSG membership, but standing up to discrimination is equally important. It could well have applied for membership later, but Pakistan will be kept out of the NSG once India gets in, and Indian entry into the “London Club” would be destabilizing for South Asian security, having a negative fallout on the nonproliferation regime at the international level as well. As Adil Sultan argues: “The responsibility for the eventual demise of the remaining non-proliferation norms will lie with the NSG and the major powers that are supporting India’s entry into the NSG.” Though, despite the eagerness of the United States, there are still some states opposing India’s NSG induction, and the group takes decisions by consensus. Hence, the status quo may well be maintained. It is time for member states to restore the NSG’s credibility by adopting a criteria-based approach for adding states instead of giving country-specific waivers, as this will only weaken the global nonproliferation regime. The NSG should not walk away from its founding principles.


As the Nuclear Suppliers Group considers the membership of India and Pakistan at its next plenary meeting this month, SAV contributors Saima Sial, Ruhee Neog, Reshmi Kazi, and Beenish Altaf think through the outcome of the vote, and analyze the potential aftermath of both the acceptance and denial of each country’s membership. Read the entire series here.


Image: Getty Images News, Getty

Posted in , NSG, Nuclear, Pakistan

Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute, an Islamabad based think tank. Her areas of research are nuclear non-proliferation and strategic issues of South Asia. She has a masters degree in Defence and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University. Furthermore, she writes regularly for national and international dailies.

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4 thoughts on “Nuclear Suppliers Group: Pakistan’s Options

  1. Well argued..But I have a question that I would like you to consider.

    The question is whether NPT membership is a criteria to get into NSG or not.

    If it is, then both India and Pakistan should not get in. (A piece I have written on the subject argues that it is not. It will most likely come out early next week at the Interpreter. Would share to get your and others’ views.)

    If it is not, then inclusion of both India and Pakistan should be based on their merits and non-proliferation credentials. There is no question of bias. I mean even if NSG establish criteria for membership which allows both India and Pakistan to join, their inclusion will have to be political decision taken by consensus at the end. My understanding is that meeting all criteria alone is not sufficient to get membership. If any member of the NSG does not see inclusion of India or Pakistan beneficial for the regime then it can block the accession. I would like to get MK’s thoughts on this point.

    Important therefore for both India and Pakistan will be to make their respective cases for membership, which focuses on the benefits the Group would have by including them. India has been doing that, but Pakistan on the other hand appears to be pushing its case by tying itself with India’s membership application. Islamabad will be better off if it focuses solely on highlighting its non-proliferation credentials instead.

  2. Beenish,
    This may be the best single-topic series in the history of SAV. Thank you for being a part of it.
    The discrimination argument has meaning, but does not have the power to persuade. Discrimination is all around us. It is embedded in human nature and in our societies. We discriminate on the basis of skin color, religion, economic status, and on many other matters. This is our burden as human beings: to recognize discriminatory behavior — including our own — and to try to act better.
    Discrimination is also reflected in international politics — and in the NPT. The NPT was negotiated in 1968. It established obligations for the states that then possessed nuclear weapons, and the states that did not then possess nuclear weapons. By reflecting the state of the world in 1968, and by categorizing states accordingly, the NPT was, ipso facto, a discriminatory document. The NPT has no place for states that did not join and that subsequently tested nuclear devices.
    The NPT has served the interests of all states that have signed it, with the single exception of North Korea, which has withdrawn from the Treaty. But discrimination is not a lasting basis for a compact between the “haves” and the “have nots.” To soften the discriminatory nature of the NPT and to strengthen the Treaty’s value, the “haves” have obligations to reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons, to reduce their stockpiles, to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to continue moratoria on producing fissile material for bomb-making, etc., etc.
    The “have nots” have obligations to continue to abstain.
    What obligations do states like Pakistan, India and Israel have — even though they remain outside of the NPT? Debate over NSG membership is, in a way, a debate over this larger question of obligations.
    Best wishes,

  3. Beenish, you have written what you have observed and in my opinion this is what the job of a researcher is. “to explain the reality as it exist and suggest how it can be handled better”.
    your argument about discrimination has been sufficiently criticized by Michael in his comments and I fully agree with him on its superficial context. He is right when he explains the discrimination of our attitudes in all our human activities, but my question is “is that enough to guide and judge our human nature”. Micheal is in his mature age and knows a lot about hum,an nature and politics. we recognize that war is a legitimate human activity but we still try our best to stop it, we know that human nature is corrupt but we still demand honesty and punish corrupt people in our courts, we know that nations only pursue interest but still we work to fight against poverty in other countries.
    I know that Michael is only explaining what exists, But it is not enough. we need to keep calling and writing for what is right and what is not. Our collective human success much depends on our collective desire to change what exist, after all this is what is human development.
    On the issue of NSG I think we need to look at the membership of existing 48 countries. these countries include Malta , Cyprus and many others with limited export capacity. there are different reasons for the membership of all of them.
    In my view NSG is an informal export control mechanism to check the export of dual use items which have both peaceful and military use, members do not get a licence to import nuclear technology under its cover as it is being presumed.
    Beenish is right that if India got the membership of NSG then it may block entry of Pakistan, but let me say that what Pakistan may loose if its is not part of NSG. We may be interested in exporting some of our dual use items and fuel cycle related technology but who all may be interested in importing from us, in the presence of other powerful and more advanced exporters.
    Quite objectively NSG membership is being viewed as a status symbol or stepping stone for getting the desired legitimacy of nuclear capability and nothing else.
    let me conclude with obligations that Pakistan, India and Israel must have. in my opinion they all need to work constructively and pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures
    relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on
    a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

  4. Very well crafted piece and analysed article. Pakistan’s move for applying NSG membership comes at a time when there is confusion whether non-NPT states like Pakistan and India are qualified to join this prestigious club. All appraisal fo timely work done by the SAV series.

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