Nuclear Suppliers Group: Need for Objective Criteria

NSG Pakistan

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is losing credibility. The proposed new criteria for membership, discussed in the June plenary and the December consultative meeting last year, are diluting nonproliferation norms and are not agreeable to all members. Further, the proposed country-specific approach weighs heavily in favor of India, leaving an equally-credentialed Pakistan with a number of barriers to entry. In order for the export control group to maintain its integrity and achieve its nonproliferation objectives, a transparent, criteria-based approach to NSG membership is warranted.

June 2016 Plenary and December Meeting: The Grossi-Song Formula

The June 2016 plenary discussed the technical, legal, and political aspects of the participation of states that are not party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but failed to lay down criteria for NSG membership, remaining fixated on the question of the NPT. China took a principled position that there should be a criteria-based approach for all membership aspirants, which would apply to all non-NPT applicants, accompanied by consultations and discussions specific to the country. It is believed that at least 12 NSG members support China’s appeal for a criteria-based approach.

At the June plenary, then-NSG Chair Ambassador Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina was tasked with coming up with a transparent consultation process with all the members to agree on an impartial membership criterion. The outcome was a revised version of a draft ‘Exchange of Notes’ for Non-NPT applicants, outlined by Grossi and the current NSG Chair, Ambassador Song Young-wan of South Korea. It is a sequential approach, which paves the way for Indian membership and harms Pakistan’s case for admission. As Zamir Akram points out, it includes actions that India already took to receive an NSG waiver exempting it from full-scope safeguards, which was needed for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. It further advocates that Pakistan seek a waiver to be eligible to receive civil nuclear technology, even after being granted NSG membership. It is believed that the revised version, also known as the Grossi-Song formula, did not consult China and saw opposition from other members including Turkey, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Belarus, Italy, and Switzerland. Even Russia called for more consultations among the members and greater transparency in the procedure.


The Grossi-Song formula did not break the logjam in the NSG membership process, as it had nothing new to compel India to take any additional non-proliferation commitments. Likewise, nuclear experts have warned that “any further country-specific exemption from NSG guidelines for trade and/or membership without compensating steps to strengthen non-proliferation and disarmament would increase nuclear dangers in South Asia, and weaken the NSG and the broader nuclear non-proliferation regime.” In other words, South Asia’s strategic stability will be challenged if any country-specific decision is taken at the NSG, further elevating the jeopardy of confrontation between both nuclear powers.

The Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal and the 2008 NSG waiver to India have already tainted the NSG. Due to double standards and the inability to reach a consensus on the India-Pakistan candidacy issue, the NSG’s credibility, and even that of the nonproliferation regime, is being compromised.

Way Forward

Pakistan’s credentials for membership are equivalent to those of India’s. While submitting its application for NSG membership, Pakistan outlined credentials such as the harmonization of its export control lists with those of the international export control regimes, efforts to ensure nuclear security and safety, and adherence to NSG guidelines. Likewise, Pakistan’s Ambassador at Vienna said, “seeking participation in the export control reflects Pakistan’s strong support for international efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.” If the new draft criteria are presented with transparency, Pakistan would probably not have any apprehensions in signing an additional protocol on its civilian facilities. Similarly, Pakistan could accept a separation of its military and civilian program, which is technically already operating separately. The only additional step would be to bring these measures under formal International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) considerations. These steps would further strengthen Pakistan’s case.

The backlash to the Grossi-Song formula has created space for Pakistan to achieve tactical success by working with like-minded states, eventually halting another preferential waiver for India. Pakistan will welcome effective draft criteria if developed with transparent and comprehensive consultations among all the participating governments, as should India.

Last but not least, to sustain the norms and credibility of the multilateral export groups, the nonproliferation regime needs to promote the ideals of strategic restraint and avoidance of nuclear war. It is through the realization of these normative postures that regimes such as the NSG will have any chance of survival. The upcoming plenary next week could be an opportunity for the group to revive its declining image.

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.


Image 1: Nuclear Suppliers Group

Image 2: Prerna Goyal, Wikimedia

Posted in , Nonproliferation, NPT, NSG, NSG Plenary June 2017, Nuclear, Pakistan

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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6 thoughts on “Nuclear Suppliers Group: Need for Objective Criteria

  1. Beenish:
    Your assertion that Pakistan’s credentials for membership are equal to India’s will be hard to make at the NSG, because of the FMCT hold and the AQ Khan business.
    Whether India’s credentials are good enough is a different story.
    I favor a set of standards for new members, but to me, credentials are measured by how much the new member has done to strengthen nonproliferation norms. Having growing nuclear arsenals doesn’t strike me as a good standard for new NSG members.

  2. In order to maintain the reliability and to make the group more effective in its function it is necessary for all the member states specifically and in general the international community must seek for collective contribution and cooperation other wise there is little chance that any international fora like NSG and other non proliferation regime would sustain. The author has very clearly indicated the loopholes and further endorsed the way forward in order to carry out the real essence of non proliferation regime in its true form and architecture.

  3. The background story of Indian and Pakistani quest for NSG membership is well-known. It all goes back to the special treatment given to India by the US in 2008 when the latter granted the former a nuclear deal despite the fact that India was not a signatory of the NPT. At that time the US also moved the NSG to give India a waiver whereby it obtained all benefits of trade in nuclear technology and material available to NSG members. Under this waiver, India contracted civil nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries of the group and was also able to sign deals with French and Russian companies to acquire nuclear power plants. This also led to Indian aspiration to acquire formal membership of the cartel. However, its bid for membership has remained unsuccessful for all these years.

  4. Beenish!
    A good one, especially bring up the debate on the turning down NSG’s credibility was the need of hour. Pakistan isn’t the only country to halt debate over FMCT, it is open but under certain condition. Secondly, AQ chapter needs to be put aside. there are similar evidences regarding other countries also, highlighting AQ every time wouldn’t be fair enough.
    As the plenary meeting is happening at the moment, NSG seriously needs to work out to sustain its norms and credibility of the multilateral export groups. Otherwise the trust upon the non proliferation regime will be shaken down gradually.

  5. the 2008 India waiver, as Dr. Moeed Yusuf has helpfully pointed out time and again, has solved the ‘criteria’ issue. the decision for full membership as far as India goes is a political one for China to make.

    It is as simple as that. end of story. the criteria approach is just a dog and pony show that china is putting on for other geo-political objectives.

    Some as educated as Beenish should know better than to put such meaningless research articles.

  6. The decision to let India in or not is geo-political and that is for China to make. the argument ends there. The ‘criteria’ crowd fails to acknowledge the fact that ‘enough criteria’ were vetted thoroughly in 2005-8 before making India a ‘near-member’ of the NSG. Why will India agree all over again to undergoing the same process just because China and Pakistan’s demand it?

    the ‘objective need’ to let Pakistan in does not exist. Even if China burnt all its diplomatic capital, there are enough opposing parties to make pak membership in the NSG a formidable proposition.
    Lets face it, at the end of the day, Pakistan wants in because of ego and a sense of false equivalence with India. Sans this parasitic attachment, pray what will Pakistan gain/give to the NSG?

    The author needs to honestly and critically reflect upon these before making any ‘arguments’

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