The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will once again consider India’s application for participation in the export control group in its next plenary meeting in Berne, Switzerland from June 19-23. India officially applied for NSG membership in May 2016, but its efforts were blocked by China, which objected to India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and attempted to link Indian entry into the NSG with Pakistan. Much has been written in support of the Chinese conditions and its rationale for blocking India’s entry. It can be substantially argued that NPT membership is not mandatory criteria for India’s NSG participation. At the same time, it is irrational to interlink New Delhi’s candidature to any other country.  India deserves NSG membership because its nonproliferation record at large and its conduct are in line with the export control group’s principles. In the face of unfair Chinese objections, India should continue to strive for NSG participation and remain committed to upholding the principles of the nonproliferation order.

India Upholds NSG Objectives

The objective of the NSG is to contribute to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons through active cooperation from participating governments (or members). These members have demonstrated like-mindedness on being “supportive of international efforts towards the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles” and having in force “a legally-based domestic export control system which gives effect to the commitment to act in accordance with the guidelines.” Through the enactment of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, India has demonstrated its support for NSG objectives, assuring that it will not be the source of proliferation of sensitive technologies. India has had a well-established and effective export control system for over six decades and it has now strengthened this system by harmonizing it with guidelines and lists of the NSG and the Missile Technology Control Regime. India has reiterated its commitment not to transfer reprocessing and enrichment technologies and equipment to countries that do not possess them. The basic interest of the NSG is to permit “[…] full membership of countries that have demonstrated responsible nonproliferation and export control practices and the ability and willingness to substantially contribute to global non-proliferation objectives.” As such, India adheres to the mandate of the NSG and has in the past played a meaningful role in furthering the welfare of the nonproliferation regime. There is little doubt that India will continue its perseverance towards strengthening the nonproliferation order.

Following the June 2016 NSG plenary in Seoul, former NSG chairman Rafael Mariano Grossi prepared a nine-point draft proposal outlining commitments that non-NPT applicants would be required to make in order to qualify for NSG membership. India meets most of the points mentioned in the proposal including separation of its civilian and military facilities, having an Additional Protocol, and supporting multilateral nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament objectives.

An interesting aspect of the draft proposal was the requirement that aspiring candidates not conduct any nuclear explosive test and express commitment to the Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT) upon admission. Even though India has not formally joined the CTBT, it has proven its commitment to the non-testing norm by declaring a moratorium immediately after its 1998 nuclear tests. It is noteworthy that this was long before the 2008 NSG waiver that led to the lifting of of an over three-decade, US-led world embargo on civilian nuclear trade imposed in the aftermath of India’s 1974 peaceful nuclear explosion. The waiver accorded India the legal right to trade civilian nuclear fuel and technology within the mandate of the global nuclear regulatory regime. India’s support to the core essence of the CTBT implies that India is committed to the ethos of important disarmament measures irrespective of any give-and-take arrangement—whether the 2005 India-US civil nuclear energy initiative or the 2008 NSG waiver. India continues its de facto observance of the CTBT by maintaining its unilateral moratorium on nuclear explosive testing, demonstrating its commitment to one of the key principles enunciated in the nine-point draft proposal.

China, Pakistan, and India’s NSG application

China is stubborn in its rejection of India’s entry into the NSG, which requires consensus among all 48 members of the export control cartel.  China insists on a “two-step” approach for a “non-discriminatory formula applicable to all non-NPT states.”  The implication is clear enough – China, for political reasons, is refraining from justly considering India’s candidature based on merit. Following the Indo-US nuclear deal, China has been suspicious of India’s rising influence in Asia and has attempted to contain New Delhi by seeking to block its association with crucial multilateral forums like the NSG. However, in June 2016, India was unanimously welcomed to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in a consensus decision with members expressing confidence that India’s membership will strengthen international efforts to prevent proliferation of WMDs and their delivery systems.

Irrespective of being a responsible nuclear power with an impressive nonproliferation record, India’s prospects for admission to the NSG do not appear very bright, primarily due to China’s truculence on the issue. By linking India’s NSG application with Pakistan, a state with a tainted non-proliferation record, China seems to be showing little regard for the ideals of the nonproliferation order while overlooking efforts of committed nations like India. While Pakistan is unlikely to get substantial support from existing members, with a few exceptions, China’s attempt to push for Pakistani entry by piggybacking off India would arguably weaken the nonproliferation regime.

There appears little reason to believe that China will relent on its existing position and join the majority of NSG members in supporting India’s candidature. Interestingly, in contrast to the 2016 NSG plenary meeting, India’s NSG application has been further bolstered with support from Switzerland and Germany. China must review its present position in view of the expanding support for India’s NSG candidature.

What Should India Do?

Away from the media’s glare, Indian negotiators are silently pursuing India’s candidature in the NSG. Despite the procedural hurdles raised by China, India remains persistent in its efforts to acquire entry into the NSG. It is a pragmatic decision for India to do so, despite a fair amount of concern within the Indian strategic community that China will not concede. The 2008 NSG waiver was a win-win situation for India—it facilitated bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreements with countries like Canada, Kazakhstan, the United States, Russia, France, and Australia. It de-hyphenated India from Pakistan and reiterated India’s commitment to bolstering nonproliferation measures. These measures while providing several advantages to India also helped secure commitment from India to support the cardinal principles of the nonproliferation regime.  As a country with advanced nuclear technology, India has a major role to play in nuclear security and safety. Mechanisms such as stringent domestic export controls and safeguards agreements further widen the ambit of the NSG. India should continue to strive for NSG participation, which would not only provide it with an opportunity to be involved in the wider decision-making process concerning supply of nuclear materials and technology but, as a potential NSG candidate, emphasize upon its commitment to uphold the principles of the nonproliferation order.

Editor’s note: This piece belongs to a two-part series that examines the possibility of India and Pakistan’s membership ahead of the Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary meeting next week. Read the entire series here.

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Image 1: Pallav Bagla via Getty Images

Image 2: Bloomberg via Getty Images 

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