Dr Rajiv Nayan
The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and India share a special relationship, which has been evolving over the years. The Group, initially named as the London Suppliers Group, reflected nuclear dynamics of the Cold War world, especially of the 1970s. It came into existence to address the complexity raised by the 1974 Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) of India. PNE was an established and accepted tool for peaceful activity during the Cold War, but the advent of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) started creating complications in its application and legality. PNE, under the NPT, was given a de facto nuclear weapon status, and thus, became a target of non-proliferation.
The NPT, which became operational in 1970, divides the world into two categories: Nuclear Weapons States and Non-Nuclear Weapons States. All the countries, which tested their nuclear devices by January 1, 1967, are categorised as Nuclear Weapons States and rest are Non-Nuclear Weapons States. There are differential obligations and rights for both the categories of states. The NPT allows nuclear commerce among all the states, but Article III of the treaty explicitly prohibits creation of a new nuclear weapons states and transfer of any item, which may
contribute to nuclear weapons
development. The member countries of the NPT set up a body, called the Zangger Committee in 1971 to interpret ambiguous language of the NPT. Gradually, the Zangger Committee created its own guidelines, and a list of nuclear items for regulating nuclear trade. A group of dominant powers persuaded some important nuclear supplier countries like France, which were non-signatories of the NPT, to adopt a control framework for transfer of nuclear materials, otherwise used for peaceful purposes. Thus, the London Suppliers Group, the predecessor of the NSG was established in 1975 as an alternative to the NPT body—the Zangger Committee. However, the Group, popularly known as the London Club, remained dormant throughout the Cold War.
The end of the Cold War saw new political dynamics in the nuclear realm. The bipolar world disappeared. However, nuclear weapons continued to exist. Non-proliferation became the dominant mantra. The non-proliferation regime started taking a new shape. In the 1990s, the NSG, which was created to accommodate non-NPT members, added NPT as one of the factors for the NSG membership. In 1992, the NSG adopted a highly stringent inspection system, known as full scope safeguards, as a condition of transfer of any item listed on its technology annex. In the same year, it also added a differently defined list of dual use technology. Generally, dual-use technology is considered technology with both military and civilian uses. The NSG dual use technology is defined as technology having implications for both non-nuclear and nuclear uses.
The comprehensive nature of the regime has made it more attractive for new countries. Somehow, by twenty first century; the NSG has a large number of countries, many of which were earlier targeted by multilateral export control regimes. Several ex-Socialist bloc countries joined it. China also joined it. Besides, some developing countries such as South Africa, Argentina and Brazil joined the NSG in due course. The current members are from all the continents, yet European countries dominate.
India has also desired to join the NSG. In 2010, for the first time, officially and publicly, the then industry minister went to Washington to state India’s demand to join it. Later, in November 2010, during President Obama’s visit, India and the US issued a joint statement, in which the US supported the Indian case. Thereafter, several countries openly and publicly supported the Indian membership for the NSG and other multilateral export control regimes, namely, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
India applied for the membership of two strategically relevant multilateral export controls regimes. In June 2015, India applied for the membership of the MTCR which it got this year. Last year, the Indian case was rejected in the October 2015 plenary meeting of the MTCR because of the objection of Italy. On May 12, 2016, India applied for the membership of the NSG. On June 9-10, 2016, the NSG held an extraordinary plenary meeting in Vienna to consider the Indian membership. And on June 23-24, 2016, the NSG once again discussed the Indian membership application in its plenary meeting. However, the Indian membership application did not attract the required consensus.
A question is being raised: why has India over exposed the American card for its membership? The answer to it is very simple: without the American support, it is difficult to get entry into an international organisation or get any international law changed in favour of India. In fact, whether it was India-specific clean exemption in the NSG guidelines in 2008 or the current membership drive the US support is clearly visible in the outcome. The 2008 exemptions could become possible because of the ‘Bush drive’. Several opponents from Europe and Asia were persuaded by the then American President to support exemptions for India. Even the membership drive has mustered the support of several American allies and friends. Pakistan was seemingly not discussed in the June Seoul plenary meet because of the lack of the American support.
Admittedly, some of the countries such as Austria and Switzerland, looked reluctant to support India for a long period, and many reports are
indicating that many of them raised questions during the Summit. It is also a fact that the Obama Administration may not have been as forthcoming as the Bush Administration, but even
with a different approach the Obama administration has mobilised support for India. Many of the European countries and New Zealand, as other reports specify, may have just discussed how to make procedures for India’s entry into the Group. They may have done so to respond to the Chinese aggressive behaviour. Apparently, apart from resisting India’s membership move in the Seoul plenary China had circulated a note against putting the membership of the non-NPT countries on the agenda of the June 9 extraordinary plenary meeting of the NSG.
However, Indian strategy is not focused on America alone. When the Prime Minister visited Switzerland and the US, he also went to Mexico for its support for the Indian membership. Other countries such as Russia and Brazil were also approached. The Foreign Secretary went to China, and most likely, took the help of non-Western countries to make China understand the merit of the Indian case. The reality is that as of today, China is resisting, and many other friendly countries like Russia do not look very happy.
The challenge for the Indian policy or strategy is to work with all the major powers or global actors. India has to take a balanced approach. This is necessary not only for the membership of the NSG but also for other global issues. The Indian government needs to allay the apprehension that the current Indian regime has aligned with the US. This impression may harm India’s relationship with even European countries.
The political leadership will have to take a lead and make some changes in the foreign office bureaucracy. A couple of diplomats who are not supposed to have a pro-American image need to be included in the team for the NSG membership campaign. Some of these diplomats could be taken from the team which was involved in the second round of negotiations for the 2008 exemptions in the NSG guidelines. The middle level diplomats who did the commendable work for the current round of negotiations, which resulted in at least the membership of the MTCR, needs to be supported and encouraged. We need to remember that this was a complex and tough job, and the outcome is not so bad.
The Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister should also try to build a domestic consensus on the membership. Some important leaders have expressed reservations. These leaders are from all political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party should train some of its spokespersons how to respond when tough questions are posed by senior leaders. The need is to reach out and explain the rationale of the act. The party has changed its course and the communication gap will demoralise cadres and common people. Even opposition leaders may be used to seek support from China and energising Russia.
India also needs to have patience in negotiations. It should not act in a hurry. If it is in a hurry, it may tend to concede more than the membership deserves. India should not alter the roadmap for the membership of other two regimes. Only after becoming a member of the NSG India should start working on requirements of the other two regimes. We are not going to lose much even if the membership is delayed for a couple of years. We have 2008 exemptions for nuclear commerce. In the near future, no adverse rule seems to be coming. Even if it comes, we have our friends to support us, at least in the short-term.
India has, by and large, been quiet about its efforts for MTCR. Of late, the NSG membership drive generated too much noise. Media often misinformed about the regimes, mainly because of its ignorance. This sent negative signals abroad and raised expectations from negotiations and hence, put pressure on the government to make negotiations/event successful. This kind of situation, at times, forces a government to give unnecessary concessions. There is also a merit in the argument that secret diplomacy also results in unnecessary concessions because of the lack of scrutiny. A balanced approach preferring a quiet diplomacy, backed by a domestic political consensus, should be adopted.
When India becomes successful in becoming a member of the NSG, it will have several long-term gains. It will join a body that virtually makes the rules for global nuclear commerce. It is true that friends may help us, but even to seek support from friends,
generally, a country has to pay some price. The best alternative is to enter into the NSG sooner or later even if the membership campaign may have some initial cost.
(The writer is Senior Research Associate, The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)
Things to Know
China desperately wants MTCR membership
China, which stonewalled India’s entry into the 48-nation NSG at the just-concluded Seoul plenary, is not a member of 34-nation MTCR. China desperately wants MTCR membership. China has applied for MTCR in 2004 but get denied, because members of MTCR considered its non-proliferation record dodgy