Assessing India’s case for NSG Membership
In his recent visit to India, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott endorsed India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). A similar reference was made in the Tokyo Declaration when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan. These two developments have once again reinvigorated the debate on India’s case for NSG membership. For several years, New Delhi has been negotiating India’s membership to four export control regimes – NSG, Australia Group, Wassenaar Arrangement and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). These deliberations attained high watermark in the background of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal but abruptly went into a lull phase thereafter.
NSG has a selective membership base and adherence to NPT regime is mandatory. This has been a major obstacle to India’s entry into the NSG club as India denounces NPT regime as discriminatory.
The UPA II government did not pursue the matter with the same vigour as it did for the 123 Agreement. One hopes the new dispensation expedites the negotiations for India’s access to these export control regimes.
Membership to the four international treaties is crucial for promoting India’s economic, technological and security interests. For instance, India’s longstanding arrangement with Russia for developing cryogenic fuels for GSLV rockets has been stalled as the latter is prohibited under MTCR to share technological know-how with India which is a non-member.
Responsible Nuclear Power
India’s standing as a ‘responsible nuclear power’ makes a strong case for the NSG membership, a powerful intergovernmental grouping that controls and regulates international nuclear commerce and transfers. The description ‘responsible nuclear power’ is somewhat uniquely applied to India, which being a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, practises much of non-proliferation norms in letter and spirit though disagreements exist over this opinion. Responsible nuclear actor connote a wide range of acceptable non-proliferation behaviour like denying nuclear materials and technology to Non-Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) for military purposes, non-use of nuclear weapons against NWS under any circumstances, cooperating with international authorities for enforcing non-proliferation rules and such other practises. India’s track record in this regard has been credible.
The NSG basically aims to achieve the above mentioned objectives by overseeing international nuclear commerce. While it does not have the authority to penalise violators of non-proliferation norms, which is looked after by the IAEA and the UN, it incentivises nuclear suppliers, especially those with advanced nuclear technologies to conform to non-proliferation norms by creating conditions wherein legitimate nuclear transfers can occur for strictly civilian uses. NSG has a selective membership base and adherence to NPT regime is mandatory. This has been a major obstacle to India’s entry into the NSG club as India denounces NPT regime as discriminatory.
Ideationally, India’s NSG membership would enhance its power attributes and boost its ambitions to place itself into high pedestal of international political order.
Two perspectives are prominent in case of India’s membership for the NSG. First, idealist non-proliferation states like New Zealand, Austria, Ireland and others are disinclined to confer NSG membership to India until it fully adheres to NPT regimes and rollback its nuclear weapons programme. They argue that any dilution of non-proliferation order sets a dangerous precedent and thus India should not be given a special treatment as it has fuelled arms race in South Asia.
Second perspective is from less idealist states which include major powers like US, Russia, France, UK, who acknowledge India’s political exigencies of going nuclear, appreciate its nuclear advances and responsible behaviour and seek institutional cooperation in strengthening the non-proliferation regime. They consider it futile to ignore India’s expanding nuclear prowess and miss opportunities for both beneficial commercial exchanges and political cooperation. An emerging global power like India cannot be coerced to dictate terms on its national security policies. The recent Indo-US Nuclear Deal has added much momentum to this perspective.
India’s policy towards NSG membership has been pragmatic. It has shown no hurry to enter into the nuclear club, thanks to its strong scientific backgrounds, and has negotiated nuclear arrangements with the international community on its terms. India’s seeks to gain strategically, economically and ideationally from NSG membership. As it is short of fissile materials, India is looking for potential nuclear suppliers that can feed its burgeoning nuclear power generation programme. This includes both uranium fuel supplies and other ancillary materials like heavy water, heavy metals and minerals etc.
…the threat of non-state actors arming with nuclear weapons can be effectively countered through multilateral cooperation and NSG membership would be one such platform.
Besides, it seeks access to cutting edge nuclear technologies that can supplement India’s own indigenous capabilities. The much thought out three stage nuclear power generation programme which plans to utilise abundant thorium resources requires highly advanced enrichment and reprocessing technologies which India is presently lacking. NSG membership would allow collaboration with other major nuclear powers in developing such technologies in India. The logic is to avoid long delays in building indigenous capabilities and lag behind the technological progress. NSG membership would also bring India into a well established international nuclear market where finances and transactions operate along sound economic traditions reaping optimal benefits. India also reckons of exporting its nuclear capacities in future.
Ideationally, India’s NSG membership would enhance its power attributes and boost its ambitions to place itself into high pedestal of international political order. Its soft power capabilities would contribute to institutional building while its hard power strengthens the non-proliferation enforcement.
Strategically, India can gain on four counts. One, India can streamline scarce domestic nuclear fuel resources and human capital to improvise its defensive and offensive military capabilities like pursuing BMD and gain nuclear advantage vis-a-vis its adversaries. Two, it can use its institutional linkages to bring international censure on proliferation activities in the neighbourhood and might be able to restrain Pakistan and China’s clandestine nuclear activities. Three, the threat of non-state actors arming with nuclear weapons can be effectively countered through multilateral cooperation and NSG membership would be one such platform. And finally, India’s larger stake in the international nuclear order earns it the leverage to campaign for arms control and disarmament, particularly with respect to Pakistan and China.
India has much to gain by joining the NSG membership with the caveat that the international community treats India as a special case…
On the negative side, India’s potential NSG membership would compel it to adhere to stringent IAEA safeguards, including the Additional Protocol, and any misgivings on India’s nuclear activities would harm its nuclear commerce. The moratorium on nuclear testing would effectively be converted to a legally binding norm as India cannot possible in future be able to defy and resume nuclear tests. The repercussions of such future tests would be far adverse than we have seen in the past.
Overall, since India’s nuclear capability has crossed a threshold of achieving credible deterrence and assured security, India has much to gain by joining the NSG membership with the caveat that the international community treats India as a special case and negotiates on its terms and conditions. A decisive action from the new government on this front is much needed to accomplish the unfinished task.