For past few months, international media was abuzz with news of intense nuclear diplomacy by India and Pakistan to build support for their respective cases for gaining Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership.
As both countries have applied for membership in the group that reinforces NPT’s core objective of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, choosing India-only preferential approach or admitting both (India and Pakistan) on the basis of specifically developed non-proliferation criteria is the biggest dilemma NSG is double squeezed with.
South Asian security dynamics and the NSG membership are closely inter-linked as the group was founded in direct response to India’s diversion of nuclear material from peaceful program to conduct nuclear test in 1974. So the formation of NSG was the result of Indian violation of peaceful use of nuclear material.
Nonetheless, NSG as a regime sacrificed its non-proliferation principle in fulfilling the commercial and geo-political interests by giving preferential treatment to a few member states. Also by granting an unprecedented and country-specific exemption to India has led the door open to have nuclear cooperation with NSG since 2008.
It is well established that NSG exemption was driven by U.S. interests to build India as a regional counter-weight to China. The peculiar strategy of using India as a counterweight policy of U.S. is in total disregards of how this NSG exemption would impact the regional stability in South Asia. This exemption to India also affected the credibility of NSG, to work as an effective non-proliferation institution.
The miserable and shambolic NSG exemption to India without compensating NSG’s standards has weakened NSG along with the broader nuclear non-proliferation regime. Interestingly, dominant non-proliferation experts have argued against bending rules in favour of India. With all this, numbers of key U.S. officials have also warned against the renewed arms race in South Asia in response to this preferential treatment being awarded to India. All it shows is that this exemption is not universally popular; there remains a great deal of unease with the India-specific approach.
The NSG race does not portend well for the whole Asian region. India’s presence in the NSG would cast a cloud over peace and stability in the entire Asia-Pacific region keeping in mind the scale of the power and ambitions. The group has to comprehend the motivations of India in quest of membership and assess whether they conform to its non-proliferation objectives.
For example, a meeting was held between counterparts from both sides (NSG and India). Views regarding transfers related to sensitive nuclear technologies such as Enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) was discussed. Interestingly, Indian officials warned that the “Proposed restrictions on transfer of sensitive nuclear items are a ‘derogation’, ‘rollback’ of U.S. commitments”. Officials from Indian side claimed that they won ‘clean waiver’ in 2008 from the cartels restrictive export rules, with full access to such technologies. Whereas, as per the revision of 2011 NSG guidelines, ENR transfers are not permissible to non-NPT states. It proves that the basic aspiration in getting the membership is to become a global power.
There is no doubt that India’s continuous rise to great and global power status is only aided by the United States (U.S.) to keep the global strategic balance in Washington’s favor. What kind of power is India today? Since it lacks serious extra regional power projection capabilities, does not decisively dominate its own region, and is not a system shaping power in either economic or military balance terms. But it is dependent on the blessings of what U.S. has been given them to rise as a great power.
Non-proliferation regimes has to get their strategy right as it seems that NSG and U.S. is playing: “UP, down, up, down, round and round the merry-go-round — on and on it grinds”. But it could be time to think about the things that may have to be changed around.