Chinese opposition at present to India’s membership is far more vociferous and nuanced than backing membership for Pakistan
One of the biggest achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States (US) has been India’s entry into Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and wholehearted support received from the US establishment for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Ever since India staked its claim to the membership of MTCR and NSG, a game of brinkmanship has begun between the two largest economies of the world, namely, the US and China. India is now a de-facto member of MTCR, which was founded in 1987 to prevent proliferation of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons. The regime controls trade and transfer of technologies associated with missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and denies them to non-members. In the past Indian missile development programme has suffered at the hand of MTCR, as critical technologies and components were denied to India. Now that India is going to join the elite grouping, it could facilitate India to get armed drones from the US and to export its Brahmos missiles to other countries. The fact that China is still not a member of MTCR helped India’s cause, as membership of both these groupings requires a unanimous resolution. Interestingly, none of the 34 members of MTCR objected to India’s membership by 08 June 2016. Last country, which was blocking India’s entry into MTCR, was Italy, whose opposition was driven by the arrest of its marines.
The membership of MTCR bolsters India’s claim to a place in NSG, as all the members of MTCR are currently the members of NSG. However, India’s entry into 48 members NSG is not a smooth passage. It not only has China as its member, but it was originally created as a response to Indian nuclear test of 1974. NSG is basically a grouping of nuclear countries that controls the trading of nuclear, material, equipment and technology, with the aim of controlling nuclear proliferation. For a country like India with limited Uranium reserves, nuclear trade is essential to keep its reactors running as well as to get the latest technology for its nuclear power plants. In 2008, after India US Nuclear deal became a reality, the NSG granted an India specific waiver, bypassing a clause that prevented NSG members from trading with a country that was not part of the group. This has facilitated nuclear commerce for India but non-membership of NSG still creates some road blocks for India.
Besides MTCR members and China, the group comprises of five former Soviet Republics (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus and Kazakhstan), three former Yugoslav states (Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia), Slovakia, Romania, Malta, Mexico and Cyprus. None of them are likely to oppose India’s entry in to NSG, thus it will only be China that would be standing between India’s entry into the elite group. In 2008, it did not oppose India specific waiver in the NSG, but cajoled countries like Austria and New Zealand to oppose the resolution. It took three days of intense diplomacy by the US to ensure that the dissenters fell in line.
Chinese opposition at present to India’s membership is far more vociferous and nuanced as it is linking Pakistan with India and has stated that if non-NPT signatories are to be granted membership, then both the countries should be admitted to NSG. This linkage is strange, considering the fact that Pakistan’s track record on proliferation has been abysmal. In addition growing radicalisation in Pakistani society, including its military, makes its nuclear establishment extremely vulnerable to global terror networks operating on its soil.
To give such a vulnerable nuclear establishment an access to global nuclear commerce could be catastrophic for global peace and security. There is therefore no chance that the NSG members would ever allow Pakistan to become a member and consequently, China will have to take a call on Indian membership in isolation. It is believed that like in 2008, China has to some extent succeeded in creating a group of dissenters, which is believed to include New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa and Austria. It will eventually devolve on the US to flex its diplomatic muscles to bring them around. China will eventually have to take a call, whether it wants to completely antagonise India and push it into the American embrace by openly vetoing Indian membership of the NSG, or it wants to further improve growing Sino-Indian relationship.
(The writer is Director India Foundation and Adjunct Professor at NDIM)