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

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