India conducted its first nuclear test in May, 1974 and prompted the seven powerful nations of the world i.e. US, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Japan and Soviet Union to regulate the export of nuclear material meant for peaceful purposes. It is pertinent to mention here that plutonium used in the said nuclear test was produced by India in a reactor that was supplied by US and Canada on the assumption that it would be used only for civilian purposes. Although, India termed the said nuclear test as Peaceful One, but for the first time it was suspected that India was maintaining a nuclear weapon program.
It was in the wake of the above said incident that constitution of such a group was felt necessary that could control the export of such material and technology that could be used in building of nuclear weapons; therefore, Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) the then London Group was formed. The members of NSG aim to facilitate only export of such nuclear material and technology that is intended for peaceful purposes. It is worth mentioning that NSG’s export control regime is not based on any treaty rather it is politically binding. Its activities mainly revolve around coordination of national export controls based on appropriate guidelines. Member states of NSG also exchange information related to enforcement of export controls.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is also point of reference for NSG’s work, which on one hand permits the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but on the other hand restricts and prohibits such support to non-nuclear weapon states that could help them in building the nuclear weapon. Member states of NSG consider NPT as its strength. Member states of NSG are also endeavouring to expand its membership. It has been seen that India is trying its best to join the group despite the fact that it is not a signatory. If India is granted entry to join the group, it would definitely change the nature of NSG membership. It is for this reason that membership of India is being considered as test case for the members of NSG, and would settle a question that whether NSG would remain an international group that is committed to adhere to the goals of NSG or it is a mere group of states that are engaged in the export of nuclear materials.
Entry of a country into NSG depends upon the following five factors, i.e., capability of a country to supply the goods enumerated in the guidelines of NSG, demonstration of willingness of a country to apply guidelines of NSG, existence and proper implementation of legally binding national export control regime in line with the rules of NSG, membership of NPT or comparable regional treaty & adherence to its rules and manifestation of willingness to support international efforts of non-proliferation of WMDs. Apart from the factors as afore-referred, certain other elements such as best practices in the field of nuclear safety and security also play a critical role in consideration for the membership.
There are a lot of questions regarding membership of India in group. It is believed that granting entry to India would tantamount to separating NPT from NSG, and if India is granted entry into NSG despite the fact that it is a nuclear armed state and is not a signatory of NPT, it would create more resentment among states that consider NSG an illegal instrument of the developed and industrialized countries, and an attempt on their part to refuse less developed countries the significant technologies. The said argument advanced by these countries seems reasonable as, statements have been repeatedly given on behalf of NSG that NPT is the point of reference for the export control activities of the group. Extending membership to India would, therefore, definitely lose the credibility of the group, because it would contradict the consistent stance maintained by the group since its creation.
There are also a number of factors that are likely to reduce the credibility of group, if India is granted entry into it. For example, India is continuously producing (and would continue to produce) fissile material unlike US, UK, France and Russia as it has not yet signed (and does not seem willing to sign) Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Further, it also appears that India would not contribute to strengthen the export control guidelines, if granted entry into the group. From the above, it can be concluded that the credibility acquired by the group for past few decades would be lost, if India is given a chance to enter into the group in violation of criteria so established by the group. Therefore, members of the group should stick firmly to the criteria of NPT while considering entry of India into NSG, and the question of membership must be based on consistent criteria to maintain the credibility of the group.