No room for India in NSG

Mohammad Jamil

India has been seeking entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to join the rule-making body. It had applied for NSG membership in 2016, but its bid is primarily being blocked by China, which maintains that the signing Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a prerequisite for entry into the bloc. In his recent paper, John Carlson examines India’s Separation Plan and safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

He shows that they do not meet this standard — that current arrangements create an unverified grey zone between military and civilian material, and are not sufficient to verify that India is not using the safeguarded material for military purposes. In light of these deficiencies, it seems unlikely there will be a consensus within the NSG to admit India unless the Separation Plan and the agreement are amended.

The paper discusses steps that should be taken to create a transparent and verifiable separation between civilian and military nuclear materials and activities in India and to protect the integrity of IAEA safeguards. On 11 November 2016, the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group had met in Vienna first to reach an understanding on the rules for entry of non-signatories of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in the Group.

India has Washington’s support for group membership but China remains reluctant, insisting that ratifying the NPT is a prerequisite for new entrants

Although India’s effort for its membership into the group has Washington’s support, China remains reluctant, insisting that ratifying the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was prerequisite for new entrants. The NSG, which regulates the supply of nuclear material, deliberated on rules for admitting new members and the matter could not be resolved since there was no consensus on the inclusion of India or any other country into the Group.

China is seen as leading opposition to the US move to include India in the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), but according to diplomats, other countries including New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa and Austria are also opposed to Indian membership of the group. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, had applied for membership of the group; and both of them have not signed the nuclear disarmament treaty.

Whereas India is trying hard to get an exception, China insists on making no exception for India. The US views India as a vast market and potential counterweight to China’s assertiveness in Asia, but it has apprehensions that India may use fuel covertly for weapons purposes. It was in this backdrop that America had demanded to track the whereabouts of material supplied to the country, which was meant to ensure that India would not divert the nuclear materials to nuclear weapons’ production.

Having said that, it appears that hypocrisy, strategic interest and greed of the US and the West for approximately hundred billion dollars had been victorious, and international covenants and laws were trampled. Anyhow, the extension of the specific exemption to India by the US would be harmful to the norms of Non-proliferation Treaty and other regimes.

Following the NSG waiver by the US and latter’s persuasion that other members should follow suit, India had signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia. However, given the constraints on any agreement imposed by New Delhi’s civil nuclear liability law, it is unclear whether the US companies will conclude any reactor supply deals with India. It has to be mentioned that the pact between the US and India exempts military facilities and stockpiles of nuclear fuel from scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency — a United Nations watchdog.

India had remained outside the international nuclear mainstream since it misused Canadian and US peaceful nuclear assistance to conduct its 1974 nuclear bomb test. It had refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and conducted additional nuclear tests in 1998. But the US and the West want to sell weapons and materials, and India has the cash to buy those weapons.

In December 2015, India and Japan had sealed a broad agreement for cooperation in civil nuclear energy with the final deal to be signed after certain technical and legal issues were thrashed out. Japan is a major player in the nuclear energy market, and an atomic deal with it will also make it easier for US-based nuclear plant makers. Reflecting the importance of this nuclear pact, Narendra Modi had said it was more than just an agreement and that it was a ‘shining symbol’ of a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership between the two countries towards the cause of a peaceful and secure world.

In April 2016, an independent US report had declared the Indian nuclear program not only unsafe but also called for satisfactory international oversight. The report by the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School identified problems arising from the gaps in the commitments that India made after the nuclear deal, and focused on India’s separation plan, its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.

The authors of the report titled ‘The Three Overlapping Streams of India’s Nuclear Programs’ further highlighted that Pakistan had a reason to be concerned that India could use its unsafeguarded portions for boosting its nuclear weapon system. The report observed that India was running three streams that include: civilian safeguarded, civilian un-safeguarded, and military. They suggested that India’s civilian nuclear program should be separated from the military nuclear program to qualify for the NSG membership.

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