The Indian Story before NSG: Evaluation of a Unique Candidacy

Introduction

The emergence of Nuclear Export Control regimes has been the bedrock on which the concept of nuclear non-proliferation rests. India’s evolving dynamics with regard to the global non-proliferation architecture has been best captured with her recent entry into the Australia Group and by doing so she has now anchored herself in three of the four elite export control regimes viz,  Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Agreement and the Australia Group. But India’s integration into the global non-proliferation regime remains incomplete without her participation in the coveted Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India’s bid for becoming one of the Participating Governments (PGs) of the NSG is significant as if she becomes one she will be the only country in the NSG who is a non-signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This article throws the spotlight on the controversy which surrounds India’s bid for becoming one of PGs of the NSG. Furthermore, the article assesses India’s potential to become a PG while keeping in mind the reasons behind the formation of the NSG.

NSG and its Role

In the backdrop of the Cold War when countries, other than the United Nations Security Council permanent members, were successful in constructing Nuclear Weapons, the shortcomings of the NPT became visible. It was evident that the NPT lacked a strong administrative instrument to effectively regulate non-proliferation throughout the world. Article III.2 of the NPT acknowledges the concept of controlling nuclear export. Lack of clarity in certain phrases and absence of crucial components in the Article incited the formation of the Zangger Committee by some signatories of the NPT. Despite all the efforts of the Zangger Committee to address the controversial issues, the NPT failed to contain the unchecked proliferation of nuclear weaponry. Hence, the NSG was formed to go beyond the NPT and further the goal of non-proliferation by implementing Guidelines in relation to “nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports“.

The Debate

In 2008, after three decades of prohibition on nuclear trade and isolation from nuclear technologies, NSG allowed India a waiver as a result of the first of its kind Civil Nuclear Agreement between India and the United States despite the fact that India remains a non-signatory to the NPT. This waiver enabled India to conduct nuclear trade and commerce with other countries despite possessing nuclear weapons and it is the only non-NPT country who enjoys such privilege. Although India formally made the bid for being one of the PGs of the NSG in 2016, it was the 2011 Plenary Meeting of  NSG which for the first time witnessed discussions regarding the “NSG relationship with India” and the issue has been discussed in the subsequent Plenary Meetings on and off since then.

The controversy regarding India’s inclusion in the NSG gained considerable limelight when  India for the first time officially made its formal bid for participation in the NSG while being backed by the then outgoing US President Obama. Considering this event as the stance of the Western world to contain her, China became the champion of those critics who questioned India’s participation and further foiled India’s bid by stating that membership of a country to the NSG cannot be “a farewell gift” from the Obama administration as India has not signed the NPT. Critics have often argued that NSG’s acceptance of India challenges its basic foundation as India has not signed the NPT which some of the PGs of NSG regard as a prerequisite. For them the point of reference for the export control activities of the NSG is the non-proliferation norms of the NPT. These kinds of arguments are based on the fallacy that the NSG was formed to complement and back the NPT and its objectives. It would be pertinent here to note that there are certain technical requirements which are taken into consideration for participation of a country at the NSG. Among these requirements, the issue of adherence to the NPT or other similar International Treaties is extremely significant. The word ‘adherence’ has become the matter of disputation where China claims that the signature in NPT is the only way to ensure the true sense of the word. On the other hand, India declines to accept this view. Also, a perusal of the U.S. Government’s “Food for Thought” paper brings forward the conclusion that it is not compulsory for a potential PG of the NSG to be a signatory of the NPT.

Apparently Beijing’s move against India’s participation might seem like it is only defending international rules and regulations, but in reality it is basically a step forward to secure its iron-brother Pakistan’s inclusion at NSG as Pakistan has also applied for its participation in the group (despite being a non-signatory of NPT). The China-Pakistan relationship can be well gauged by the Washington Post revelation that China in addition to supplying “50 kg of weapon-grade enriched uranium” had also supplied the blueprint for making nuclear bombs to Pakistan. It is well known that afterwards the nuclear know-how was shared with North Korea, Iran and Libya by Abdul Qadeer Khan who is hailed as the “Father of Pakistan’s Atomic Bomb”. The proximity between U.S. and India has manifested itself as the reason for Pakistan’s security dilemma and as a result of this, the world has seen the China-Pakistan bond to grow stronger with each passing day.

India’s Nuclear Policy and Practices

The major challenge before India is that she cannot join the NPT as this treaty refuses to recognize those nations as nuclear powers which had administered their nuclear explosion post January 1, 1967 and India is in no way ready to embrace that. The fact that India’s goal of non-proliferation resonates with that of the almost universal mantra of non-proliferation is not something which the world has witnessed only in recent times. In the year of India’s independence (1947) itself, she effectuated control over export of those materials, technologies and equipment which can aid the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,  and consequently control over export of Monazite and Thorium Nitrate was exercised. Moreover, a rerun of history would show India as an active member of the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament which was responsible for negotiations concerning a draft of NPT. Besides this, keeping the best practices of the world in mind, the Ministry of External Affairs released a statement on September 5, 2008 declaring that India has harmonized her export control laws in line with the NSG Guidelines and has made the commitment of adhering the same. Subsequently, on September 8, 2008 a letter was sent to the Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency stating that India has adhered to the NSG Guidelines. These efforts from India’s side to integrate herself into the global non-proliferation realm to further its goals come as no surprise as history bears testimony to the fact that she has always been an advocate of non-proliferation. For instance, while all the other countries possessing nuclear weapons decided to disparage the  International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons”, India who was one of the appellants ardently supported the unanimous declaration of the ICJ which stated that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”. While on one hand when states like Libya, Pakistan, South Africa, North Korea, Iran and Israel were engaged in activities related to nuclear proliferation with other states, India on the other hand turned down Libyan leader Muammar Guddafi’s request for nuclear know-how in the year 1978 and never engaged herself in nuclear proliferation activities with other countries. All these instances point towards the fact that India’s record of nuclear non-proliferation is unblemished.

India being the home of more than 1.2 billion and one of the fastest growing economies of the world, is in dire need of uninterrupted supply of electricity in each and every part of it. The hard hitting reality that around 240 million of the population “lack access to electricity” in India cannot be denied. To tackle the huge demand for electricity, India largely relies upon the conventional energy sources which inevitably induce greenhouse gases & global warming. Nuclear energy is considered as one of the best alternatives to curb production of greenhouse gases and so India wants to increase its nuclear energy production capabilities in order to lessen its reliance on conventional energy sources. Hence, Government of India in the year 2014 itself had set its goal to triple the nuclear power capacity from its then existing capacity (4780 MW) within the next decade. Though she has attained several steps to increase her nuclear energy production capacity, participation in NSG can assist India further to achieve its target and will allow the world to breath fresh air by taming the air pollution giant.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that being a signatory of NPT does not ensure that a country will be committed to the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. The prime object of forming the NSG was to check exports that lead to nuclear proliferation and it is this very objective that the PGs should keep in mind while evaluating the candidature of a country who wants to join the group. It should only include those countries whose aims and aspirations resonates with that of the NSG’s. If states which are not like-minded are included in NSG the chances of endangering the existence of a consensus-driven body like NSG are high. As NSG from its very inception was formed with the aim of going beyond the purview of the NPT the assertion that India cannot join NSG as it is not a signatory of NPT holds no water. Furthermore, the inclusion of a country like India, who possesses stupendous non-proliferation record and diligently complies with the NPT and NSG Guidelines, can act as a paradigm for those aspiring nations who aim to advance their nuclear projects undermining the NPT and NSG norms.