Written By: Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Pakistan and India have applied for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-nation body that governs trade in nuclear-related exports and aims to ensure that civilian trade in nuclear materials is not diverted for military use. Both states realize that inclusion in the Group would not only enhance their prestige or status in the global politics but also legitimize their import and export of nuclear material for peaceful application.
The NSG was created as a voluntary cartel in 1975 on the behest of the United States. The cartel was established in response to India’s May 18, 1974, so-called peaceful nuclear explosion, “which was fuelled with plutonium produced by a Canadian-supplied reactor (CIRUS) in violation of peaceful nuclear use assurances.” Since entry into force in 1978, the NSG has been transferring nuclear material and technology to the parties of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), who are observing comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
Neither India nor Pakistan is party to NPT and thereby both states do not qualify to be a member of NSG as well as recipient of nuclear material and technology from the Group. This rule, however, was evaded in 2008 to accommodate India. The NSG members made an amendment in the trade laws of the Group and granted a special waiver to India. The special treatment of India undermined the credibility of the Group.
Premier Narendra Modi has been lobbying with the support of the United States to enter into the NSG for pursuing India’s economic and strategic agenda. The membership of the Group would allow New Delhi to trade in nuclear material and technologies with the rest of the world. In the parlance of strategic alliance the membership would also eradicate the last remnants of ‘the pariah status that was imposed following the first nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1974, and reinforced after the Pokhran II tests in 1998.’ Aroon Purie opined that: “If the civil nuclear agreement between India and the U.S. in 2005 was the first step towards ending the ostracism, becoming a full member of the NSG would make India an integral part of the global nuclear club.”
Prime Minister Modi had toured many countries, including the United States; to muster support for India’s NSG membership application endorsement during the first half of June 2016. Presently, India enjoys President Obama’s strong support in its bid to join the Group. Notably, President Obama first expressed support for India’s membership in the NSG in November 2010 joint statement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Since then, he has been lobbying for India to win membership through a special exception.
The trends in the international politics and debates on the nuclear non-proliferation regime indicate that India may not receive the special or exceptional treatment in securing the NSG membership. India’s application for the NSG membership and United States plea to treat it as a special case were vastly debated in the international media prior to the group meeting on June 9, 2016 in Vienna, Austria. The debate confirms that special treatment of one state and discriminatory approach against the others would be perilous for NSG in particular and Nuclear Non-proliferation regime in general.
The Chinese principled stance i.e. only party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is qualified to be members of the NSG was a major roadblock which has hindered India from becoming an NSG member. Importantly, the 48 members of NSG have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, either as nuclear weapons states (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China) or as non-nuclear weapons states. Whereas; India is not party to the NPT. That’s why; in addition to China, a few other members of the Group including New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa, Austria, etc. also opposed the U.S. move to include India in the 48-nation NSG.
China has been keeping a firm stance on the subject of the NSG membership. On May 13, 2016, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lu Kang made a statement that “NPT membership” is a necessary qualification for membership. He added, “Not only India, but also many other non-NPT members have voiced their aspirations to join the NSG.” Many NSG members, including China, believe that this matter shall be fully discussed and then decided based on consensus among all NSG members in accordance with the rules of procedure of the NSG. The recent reports reveal that China has shown flexibility on its stance by announcing that it is against an exception being granted to India and may favour a criteria-based approach to address the question of all non-NPT states being granted membership to NSG.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind foreign trips’ failure to ensure smooth entry of India in NSG is a big setback for his foreign policy agenda. Conversely, the denial of special treatment to India would contribute definitely in restoring the credibility of the NSG. Since 2008, India has been enjoying the exceptional treatment by the Group due to its cementing strategic partnership with the United States. “For years, the United States has sought to bend the rules for India’s nuclear program to maintain India’s cooperation on trade and to counter China’s growing influence. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a civilian nuclear deal with India that allowed it to trade in nuclear materials.” (The Editorial Board, “No Exceptions for a Nuclear India” The New York Times, June 4, 2016). Washington’s twisting of Nuclear Non-proliferation regimes rules/norms in favour of India has increased the fragility of the regime.
The credibility of Nuclear Non-proliferation regime tainted because India promised in 2008 to undertake certain measures in reciprocity of NSG waiver. Daryl G. Kimball pointed out that: “The NSG waiver for India was granted in return for several Indian non-proliferation “commitments and actions,” including maintaining its nuclear test moratorium, supporting negotiations to halt fissile material production for weapons, and developing a plan to separate its civilian and nuclear sectors.” (Arms Control Today, June 2016). The review of American think-tank reports discloses that New Delhi did not fully separate its civilian and military nuclear reactors. Neither observed moratorium on fissile material production for weapons use nor signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Moreover, it had not adhered to the limited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol.
Although Obama administration has immensely been lobbying for India’s NSG membership, yet a few Congressmen at the Capitol Hill are expressing their serious reservations on India’s nuclear non-proliferation record. They seem disturbed due to New Delhi’s non-compliance of nuclear related commitments with Washington since the entry into force of Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal in 2008. For instance, Senator Markey statement in a U.S. Senate hearing on May 24, 2016, was revealing. He pointed out that: “since 2008 when (we) also gave them an exemption, India has continued to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons program virtually un-checked. At that time Pakistan warned us that the deal would increase the chances of the nuclear arms race in South Asia.” The vertical nuclear proliferation in South Asia and absence of arms’ control between India and Pakistan endorse Senator Markey’s proclamation in the Senate of United States.
Pakistan formally applied for the NSG membership on May 18, 2016. Perhaps, Pakistan’s move to join NSG surprised both India and the United States. Since its bid for membership, Islamabad has been lobbying for the support of like-minded states. In this context, it also sent letters to the U.S. officials and lawmakers, urging them to support its bid for joining the NSG. Due to its visible tilt towards New Delhi, Washington asked Pakistan ‘to put its case before all 48 members of the Group, instead of seeking individual endorsements for joining the NSG’. The response of Washington to Islamabad reflect chill in bilateral relations.
Importantly, Pakistan instead of asking for favour or special treatment has maintained a principle stance on NSG membership. It is demanding a non-discriminatory approach. It accentuates that a criteria-based or norm-based approach ought to be adopted for the membership of NSG. More explicitly, Islamabad has been advocating that the norms and rules applied to give India membership should also apply to all new entrants to the NSG. Many members have appreciated Pakistan’s principle stance. Therefore, they have supported Islamabad’s attempt to become a member of the Group.
Without having a criteria-based approach, Pakistan would be permanently in a disadvantageous position. It is because NSG operates on the basis of consensus. Once India becomes the member of NSG, it would be in a position, as a member, to permanently block the entry of Pakistan in the Group by using the consensus clause. In simple words, it would veto the attempt of Pakistan to join the NSG.
Importantly, Islamabad’s application to join the Group not only subverted the smooth entry of India in the NSG with the support of the United States, but also created a legitimate right of Pakistan to be a member of the Group. It is because, “Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure and the ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses.”
To conclude, both India and Pakistan have potential to assist many developing states to advance their nuclear infrastructure for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Indeed, granting of the NSG membership to New Delhi and Islamabad would be in the interest of lesser-developed states. The trends, however, reveal that both states might not be successful in getting the membership of NSG in the near future.
The writer is Associate Professor at School of Politics and International Relations Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.