The talk on India’s participation at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has initiated a discourse on the future of the Group, with particular reference to the Group’s relationship with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Those opposing India’s entry to the global nuclear control regime argue that letting India join the NSG would mean a decoupling of the NPT and the NSG membership. It is also said that by including a non-NPT state, the NSG would undermine the legitimacy of the NPT. These arguments essentially stem from the belief that the NSG was established to support and complement the NPT in its goal of nuclear non-proliferation.

India, on this front, is not considered by some nations and global nuclear experts as like-minded as it continues to remain outside the NPT. There are two important factors, however, which require careful examination before any judgement is made on either the like-mindedness of India or India’s participation at the NSG. The first aspect to be examined is that of a direct proportionality which is assumed to exist between NPT-membership and like-mindedness of a country on nuclear non-proliferation. The second factor which needs to be studied is the relationship between the NSG and the NPT memberships.

The necessity of like-mindedness is understandably critical considering that the NSG functions on consensus and including countries which do not adhere to the common principles and norms of non-proliferation could diminish the efficiency of the Group significantly. But there appears to be an assumption made in this argument (against India’s participation) that NPT-membership and like-mindedness on nuclear non-proliferation are directly proportional to each other. History, however, proves that the NSG has, in fact, faced situations when some of its participating governments (PGs), that were also party to the NPT, did not show the like-mindedness which is expected to be demonstrated. For instance, for over 13 years after the NSG meeting of 1977 in London, the NSG PGs did not meet to discuss the proposal of creating the requirement of full-scope safeguards at the recipient state a condition for export of nuclear materials, equipments and technologies that were covered in the NSG’s trigger list. Though the Guidelines as established in 1977 were not violated by any of its PGs and the Group also expanded with 12 new countries joining the Group in that period, due to commercial interests of some of the PGs, as argued by Ambassador Tadeusz Strulak, Chairman of the NSG in 1992, the PGs did not meet. This absence of like-mindedness also resulted in the absence of expansion and upgradation of the NSG trigger list (of sensitive nuclear and related materials, equipments and technologies) which allowed some NPT nations, in particular Iraq, to acquire dual-use equipments to run a clandestine nuclear programme. It was only at the end of the Gulf War, that the NSG PGs agreed to meet and discuss the expansion of the trigger list to include nuclear related dual-use items.

Another and a more recent example is that of China and its export of two additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan at Chashma-3 and -4. China claimed that the export of the reactors is grandfathered by an agreement made between China and Pakistan in the early 1990s, much before 2004 when China joined the Group. But the fact remains that China did not disclose its plans of exporting new reactors to the NSG PGs in 2004 which it was required to notify. On the contrary, it had assured the NSG that it will not export any other reactors than Chashma -1 and -2. China’s decision to export reactors, without acquiring formal exemption for Pakistan is a clear violation of the NSG Guidelines and it threatens the credibility and the legitimacy of the Group.

These two examples illustrate the argument that NPT membership does not necessarily reflect the like-mindedness of a country on nuclear non-proliferation. The cases of Iraq (in the early 1990s), Iran and North Korea further consolidate the validity of this argument. While being signatories to the NPT, they have either run clandestine nuclear programme or have left the Treaty and developed and tested weaponised nuclear devices. Though the reasons could vary, such instances showcase that NPT membership alone cannot determine the path a nation takes in so far as nuclear proliferation is concerned.

Meanwhile, examination of the NSG’s history actually reveals that the Group, in the past, has gone beyond the NPT by including nations which were not signatories to the latter. France, for instance, joined the NPT in 1992, but it has been at the NSG since 1977. In 1974, SGN, a French company, had signed a contract with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to construct a reprocessing facility which could have enabled Pakistan in producing between 100 kg and 200 kg of weapons-grade plutonium. However, soon after joining the NSG, France terminated the contract with the PAEC and also abandoned its other plans of nuclear and related exports to countries who were then seeking latent nuclear capabilities.

NSG’s relationship with NPT is critical as the former’s decision to include states that are not like-minded would not just damage its own efficiency but could also jeopardise the legitimacy of the latter. Yet, considering that NPT-membership has failed to serve as an accurate indicator of the like-mindedness of a nation on nuclear non-proliferation, the NSG would benefit by broadening its understanding of like-mindedness on nuclear non-proliferation and going beyond the NPT to include nations that can contribute to the true spirit of non-proliferation. If NSG includes a non-NPT signatory in the near future, it will definitely not be the first time.


Image: Joe Klamar-AFP, Getty

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