India’s NSG Bid: The Next Round


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.


Image 1: Ministry of Defence, India

Image 2: Bloomberg, Getty

Posted in , China, CTBT, India, NSG, Nuclear

Reshmi Kazi

Dr. Reshmi Kazi is Associate Professor in the Jamia Milia Islamia (Central University). She specializes in nuclear security, nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear disarmament. Her doctoral thesis is on “Evolution of India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Study of Political, Economic and Technological Dimensions” from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has written extensively on nuclear security issues and made several presentations including a paper on "Nuclear Terrorism and UN Resolution 1540: A South Asian Perspective" at the UN Headquarters, New York. Her publications include monographs on "Post Nuclear Security Summit Process: Continuing Challenges and Emerging Prospects" (2017) and "Nuclear Terrorism: The New Terror of the 21st Century" (2013). She is an alumni of National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Study, Washington DC and a Visiting Fellow (Summer 2016) for the South Asia programme in the Stimson Center, Washington DC. Her aim is to research and publish on critical areas pertaining to nuclear issues that can contribute to future policy making.

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14 thoughts on “India’s NSG Bid: The Next Round

  1. An interesting analysis Reshmi. As for the Chinese objection, India witnessed it before with regard to NSG and saw it again recently. It only reasserts the relevance of realpolitik in all global political issues.

  2. Reshmi,

    Interesting analysis, however it’s somewhat lopsided. Indian proliferation record like all NWS’s and NW’s aspirants is not impeccable, with many entities and individuals have gotten sanctioned:

    CIRUS fuel for Pokhran-I test should also not be forgotten from India’s proliferation record.

    Furthermore the concerns of many NSG members on issue of unsafeguarded nuclear reactors have not been alleviated, especially on PHWR’s which can be used for military purposes.

    Aditi makes a fair point on realpolitik driving the Chinese veto on India membership, but it’s also realpolitik why few countries are pushing India for NSG membership. Proliferation history is never the driver in this scenario.

  3. Reshmi,

    I would value your response on few counter points on India’s ‘like-mindedness’ to become NSG member:

    1. Climate change linkage with NSG membership does not hold ground. Controlling carbon emissions is rather valid for access to nuclear technology as a cleaner source of energy. This argument makes Pakistan’s case for nuclear cooperation with NSG.
    2. To this date, India does not have an independent nuclear regulatory body, which is a legal obligation upon India as a party to Convention on Nuclear Safety and Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Facilities (this is what CPPNM is called after entry into force of 2005 Amendment).
    3. India’s de facto observance of CTBT conflicts with reliable reports of India secretly building a large-scale enrichment complex, potentially to be utilized for developing and testing thermonuclear weapons.
    4. India contradicts with NSG’s non-proliferation objectives e.g. NSG bans transfer of Enrichment and Reprocessing to non-NPT states, whereas India contends it stands eligible.

    Since you referred to Mark Hibbs, it is important to also reflect on a number of pertinent questions raised by him (see link below) before considering membership to non-NPT states, inclusive of India.

  4. Importantly, this NSG waiver is into the attention because of a key reason both countries have joined by making a unique entry is because the lifting of sanctions and trade prohibitions from U.S. will have an easy way of massive defence developments in advance armaments and military technologies. This basically predicts that the deal was primarily for cooperation and for lucrative business.

  5. Reshmi,
    Well done, as usual.
    I wonder if India is rebuffed a second time whether it will try for a third time.

  6. Ali,

    your assertion “Indian proliferation record like all NWS’s and NW’s aspirants is not impeccable” is incorrect. India’s non-proliferation credentials cannot be compared with one specific NWS that is on record with illicit nuclear trade and controversial nuclear cooperation with another specific non-nuclear weapon state till date. Besides, the Nonproliferation Sanctions list against India shows clearly that there have been closure on the sanctions once imposed and they no longer exist.

    On proliferation concerns about India’s PHWR, let me clarify that they are primarily for energy purposes and are under safeguards. Hence, any claim or concern that the PHWRs “can be used for military purposes” have to be supported with hard evidence. So far there is no record showing these PHWRs have been diverted for military purposes. Hence, your claims are contentious in this matter.

  7. Qutab,

    On “Climate change linkage with NSG membership does not hold ground” is your perspective on which I cannot say much. However, efforts towards addressing climate change is not a factor for NSG admission. For admittance into the export control group certain approach is required which has been discussed in my piece. Hence, despite Pakistan’s noble intentions of addressing climate change issues by itself does not qualify Pakistan for NSG entry.

    That India does not have an independent regulatory body, the Post Fukushima disaster, a bill to establish an independent Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2011, but it was not passed. However a renewed effort to strengthen India’s nuclear regulatory mechanism, the government is in the advanced stages of re-introducing a new legislation — the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2015 in the Parliament. The process in ongoing.

    On CTBT and your conjecture of “reliable reports”. These reports are based on questionable investigation lacking authentic sources. Anonymous sources can hardly constitute “reliable reports”.

    I have argued in my piece that there is a gradual shift in the hitherto existing debate on NPT membership for all NPT members including India. Please refer to the shifts in the debate.

    On E& R Technology , India has stated clearly that it will not transfer its indigenous E&R technology to any non-nuclear state as part of the 123 Agreement under the US Atomic Energy Act 1954, which makes it “like-minded” with the NSG members.

  8. Rabi,

    The objective of the NSG is to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology by garnering increasing support from countries capable of contributing towards this objective.

  9. Dear Michael.

    Thank you.

    I cannot really say about the “third time” but certainly India is a persevering nation when it comes to strengthening the objectives of the non-proliferation regime.

  10. Only because the U.S. is supporting the Indian NSG bid even the civil nuclear deal was due to the political and strategic objectives behind that it is expecting to achieve. Otherwise, India is rogue nuclear weapons state as non-signatory of NPT with a flawed nuclear proliferation record, poor safety, and security and export control measures. Alone it would never had a chance even to catch the eye of states in group.

  11. Dear Reshmi,

    Grateful for your response.

    When I commented, I tried to be objective, substantive and factual as far as possible, otherwise we could endlessly indulge ourselves into even how one defines ‘impeccability’ :-)

    Some counter-counter points, with add-ons:

    1. You made a climate change argument in support of India’s membership, which I contested. Your argument is a copy-paste of how this has been pleaded in India’s NSG application and post-plenary MEA press release , without any rational basis. You confess in your response that it has no linkage.

    2. India’s bill on NSRA was tabled, as you say, in 2011, post-Fukushima. Would that mean, if there were no Fukushima disaster, there would not be the need for an independent nuclear regulatory body in India? Whereas India took upon itself this legal obligation when it became party to Convention on Nuclear Safety (by signing in 1997 and ratifying in 2005) and Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (by ratifying in 2007). There is a considerable delay in commitment and corresponding action, nonetheless. Is it one-off or behavioural, should be a good research question? For example, as part of NSG exemption, India committed in 2008 to adhere to NSG Guidelines and Additional Protocol but did not actually conveyed adherence to the former to IAEA until recently (May 2016) and by ratifying AP as late as July 2014.

    3. The ‘reliable’ reports on India’s secret enrichment complex I referred, for instance, are by IHS Janes or ISIS . They, as you say, may not be reliable, but are you holding up that there isn’t any such facility? If there was no need for India to resume nuclear testing, It could convert its de facto observance of CTBT to de jure status.

    4. I questioned India’s own insistence to have ENR transfers from NSG despite being a non-NPT state and not ENR transfers by India to others. The question therefore remains unanswered.

    The add-on is on your response to Ali. It is factually incorrect that India’s all PHWRs are under IAEA safeguards. Since they are not under any kind of verification regime to ensure non-diversion to military program, only saying they are for peaceful purposes wouldn’t address proliferation concern. Déjà vu, remember what happened at CIRUS! This is one of the significant loopholes in India’s so-called civil-military separation plan. Please see this recent Belfer Center report for technical details and analysis.

  12. Dear Qutab,

    I am equally grateful for keeping this discussion going.

    I will address the issues raised by you as objectively and substantially as in my earlier response.

    On “climate change”, what you missed was in my response was the qualifying factors for NSG membership as enunciated in the document on ““The Nuclear Suppliers Group: Its Origins, Role and Activities” (INFCIRC 539 Revision 6)”. Addressing the climate change issue is not a qualifying factor for NSG admission. It is voluntary to which India has pledged support.

    On “if there were no Fukushima disaster, there would not be the need for an independent nuclear regulatory body in India?” I will advise you not to jump to conclusions. The Fukushima disaster was a wake-up call for many including Japan. However, this has nothing to do with formulating India’s NSRA bill. It is indeed unfortunate that the bill is delayed due to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. However, as I have mentioned already, it is in the advance stages of being re-introduced and the process is on. That said there is no delay in our commitment because that has already been made and exists strongly.

    On India’s secret enrichment facility, let me clarify there is nothing secret about the enrichment facility. So your conjecture that I am denying “there isn’t any such facility” is incorrect. This facility is meant for generating fuel for India’s submarine programme. However, to prognosticate that the enrichment facility
    is meant for nuclear testing without any hard evidence is only to sensationalize issues and hence is biased.

    On “India’s own insistence to have ENR transfers from NSG despite being a non-NPT state” can you site any credible source where India has made any such demand? The E&R technology transfer requirements calls fro NPT membership and so far there has been so modification on that. However, there is gradual shift in the debate so any change in the existing status is possible only with the consensus of the NSG members.

    On India’s PHWRs, when I said factually incorrect what I meant is the presumption that some of these are of “proliferation concern”. However, to logically argue, why would the India’s unsafeguarded PHWRs that are primarily meant for energy generation will be used at all for weapons programme. India’s DHRUVA reactor is operational and is meeting our strategic requirements in a minimum credible manner. Hence there appears no reason for India to complicate matters.

  13. Shahid,

    I advise you to be factually correct and not indulge in rhetoric. your comments are academically unsound.

    The US is not the only country supporting India’s NSG admission. It is supported by most NSG members because they believe India has strong non-proliferation credentials.

    And talking of groups, do not slip on India’s entry into the MTCR through unanimous consensus.

  14. Dear Reshmi,

    To see India’s position on export of ENR from NSG to India, see below Indian EAM’s statement after NSG Guidelines were revised in 2011 (restricting such transfers to non-NPT states)

    Above statement clearly implies that India got “clean” NSG exemption in 2008, with full access to nuclear technologies including ENR, despite the 2011 revisions.

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