India and Pakistan, the two regional rivals, formally applied for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers group (NSG) to be considered in its twenty-sixth meeting starting June 20th at Seoul. NSG was formed in response to the Indian nuclear test in 1974, and this 48-member organization aims to reduce nuclear proliferation by regulating the export of nuclear materials, and setting guidelines for international trade in nuclear energy technology. All NSG members are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The membership bids of the two countries dominated public discourse in South Asia for weeks prior to the meeting that ended on a sour note for both. Pakistan’s application, some analysts speculate, was sent only as a response to India’s bid – even though it was not the best timing for Pakistan. India’s application succumbed to China’s strong opposition to its non-NPT status. Since all NSG decisions are taken unanimously, neither of the applicants stood much of a chance for several reasons. As the meeting ended without granting India's membership request, despite heavy lobbying by Indian Prime Minister Mr. Modi and strong support from some major Western powers, analysts contend it is only reasonable to defer for now and reconsider India’s bid later when the implications of political, legal and technical aspects of non-NPT participation have been thoroughly explored.
However, the applications from the two South Asian countries did ignite a robust debate on the possible inclusion of non-NPT states by adopting a criteria-based approach in the future. The statement released at the end of the meeting by the NSG supports this view: “Participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.”
India’s case for a favorable verdict rested primarily on its increasing energy needs fueled by its fast-growing economy and desire to meet the needs of its massive population. Indian officials cited the country’s track record of being engaged in NSG compliant initiatives and its willingness to have its nuclear facilities placed under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as proof of its commitment and credibility. They dismissed India’s non-NPT status as a hurdle to its inclusion, citing precedent set by France that remained an active NSG member for almost two decades before signing the NPT.
However, some reports indicate that India has not satisfactorily fulfilled its commitments to the objectives of non-proliferation, and instead has contributed to regional insecurity by significantly expanding its nuclear program. A letter by the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Jilani alluded to the same, citing public knowledge of reports on “significant upcoming fissile material facilities and build up of unsafeguarded weapon usable fissile material in Pakistan’s neighborhood raise larger security and stability concerns for the region.”
Pakistan, for its part, maintains a desire to remain engaged with non-proliferation efforts, and cites fulfillment of its growing energy needs as crucial to its stability and security – factors that have contributed to Pakistan’s application for NSG membership. In his recent letter to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Pakistan’s Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani sought to build his case for Pakistan, reiterating that “Pakistan has operated secure and safeguarded nuclear power plants for over 42 years. Safe and sustainable civil nuclear energy is essential for Pakistan’s future energy security and its economic development,”
The reason Pakistan has tied its membership with India’s is because the power politics in South Asia demands a balance. Based on the delicate relationship these South Asian rivals hold, Pakistani officials believe that if India is accepted despite its non-NPT status and Pakistan is left out, not only would it be an act of discrimination compounding the already contentious 2008 India-specific NSG waiver, but there is a big chance India might block Pakistan out of NSG permanently. This is unacceptable to both Pakistan and China. Andrew Small, author of The China-Pakistan Axis, admitted as much: “They don’t want to permanently entrench Pakistan’s exclusion from the NSG by admitting India without agreeing to a set of rules that would eventually admit Pakistan too”.
India has been quite incensed with China’s opposition, linking it to China’s fear of allowing India a bigger role and challenging its regional hegemony. A Times of India article also accused China of lacking its own credibility and being a “…major proliferator of nuclear and missile technology to North Korea and Pakistan”. China for its part, insists that it is only being fair by insisting on a criteria-based approach, and keeping NPT signatory status as a pre-requisite to entry in the NSG. Reuters has quoted Chinese foreign ministry officials as saying: “Applicant countries must be signatories of the NPT. This is a pillar, not something that China set. It is universally recognised by the international community,”
China has also linked India's application with that of Pakistan saying that both should be considered simultaneously, and garnered support from Turkey, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa for its stance. It does not help India’s argument that India is a nuclear-armed non-NPT, non-CTBT signatory state with several existing border disputes with most of its neighbors.
The United States, however, fully supported India’s application, even as it declined to acknowledge Pakistan’s application. The U.S. also discouraged Pakistan’s lobbying efforts and advised Pakistani officials to put their case in front of the NSG members and let them decide through consensus, instead of seeking individual support. To some analysts, the United States’ strong advocacy for Indian NSG membership speaks to a short-sighted commercial and political agenda, in complete disregard of nuclear concerns and commitments expected of other states. Despite strong U.S. support, however, officials in the Indian camp reportedly remain somewhat dissatisfied not only with the outcome of the meeting, but with U.S. lobbying efforts on India’s behalf, reminiscing about the Bush administration’s strong lobbying in the past that ended in a favorable outcome. Other countries favoring India and supporting the U.S. effort include the U.K., France, Russia, South Korea, Argentina, Japan, Mexico, and Switzerland.
Although, the NSG delayed its decision and did not block India’s entry into the group, India’s dampened hopes have not come without consequence. A statement reportedly released by the Indian government after the NSG meeting in Seoul said: “An early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement.”, implying that any further cooperation is no more guaranteed. India’s involvement is deemed crucial to this initiative since the country is one of the world's largest carbon emitters. Clearly, India intends to use this as leverage where possible, and perhaps influence the NSG at a later date.
The NSG is a group of focused, invested global players with common goals and approaches towards nuclear non-proliferation. As such, it is imperative for NSG’s success that undue pressure be ignored and due process followed for all decisions, especially when considering memberships for non-NPT states. A continuing discussion within the group will help clarify concerns and implications as well as benefits of such an allowance to the overall effectiveness of NSG, especially since all of its decisions are taken unanimously. As such, countries seeking memberships would find their interest better served by either waiting patiently till that discussion has taken place, or working actively towards improving their own nuclear credentials.
SOUTHASIA, JULY 2016