By Debak Das
The recently concluded third India-US Strategic Dialogue has been a remarkable exhibition of the strengthening bilateral relationship between the two states. The dialogue meanwhile has also delivered a much needed fillip to the issue of the prospect of Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While this road seems to be fraught with obstacles, could the US assuming chairmanship of the NSG enhance the Indian bid for membership despite strong opposition from China?
What is the significance of the Strategic Dialogue for the bilateral relationship?
There have been recent speculations regarding a lull in the India-US relationship in spite of inherent geo-strategic and economic interests. Ashley Tellis though counters this assertion as an unfounded one and believes that this is a long-term relationship and needs to be viewed as one (http://bit.ly/Nf2Gop). The short-term problems cannot possibly sidetrack the phenomenal growth of this bilateral relationship.
On 13 June, as Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna met the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, widespread consultations were conducted between the two delegations primarily on the five main areas of trade and investment, science and technology, education, security and defence cooperation, and finally cooperation in South and Southeast Asia. What stands out at the very outset of the joint statement by the two leaders is the overt US encouragement of wider Indian engagement in the Asia Pacific. The welcoming of the trilateral dialogue between the US, India and Japan, as well as the Indian promise to help the US become a dialogue partner with the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (of which India is currently the chair) are developments that Beijing shall track with a wary eye. The commitment to jointly explore opportunities to work toward the promotion of development in Afghanistan and to hold a trilateral dialogue with the Afghan government is meanwhile testament to the US recognition of a larger Indian stake in the country as a regional player.
The fruition of the deal between the US based Westinghouse Electric and Co and the Nuclear Power Company of India Ltd to build the first US reactor in India also grabbed headlines during the strategic dialogue. While this is a clear and heavy indication of progress with regard to the hitherto dormant Indo-US nuclear deal, India was also praised for its efforts to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil.
What are the prospects of Indian membership to the NSG?
India is currently simultaneously pursuing membership into three other export control regimes – the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the precedent of a non-NPT signatory gaining membership into the coveted NSG may clear the road for India’s membership into the others.
According to Mark Hibbs and Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (http://bit.ly/LoYBtb), the question of Indian membership into the NSG warrants serious consideration into the future that the institution envisages for itself. It can either don the mantle of a ‘universal export control organisation’ that includes all nuclear capable countries within its fold, or it can choose to be an institution of like-minded states that choose to uphold the ‘nearly universal global proliferation norms and principles’. The argument that India’s past nuclear behaviour makes it likely to seek the loosening of guidelines for nuclear trade and the justification that India’s non-signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) makes it likely to block any fresh NSG guidelines to combat proliferation is an unconvincing one.
There is a sense that that the US’ interest in propping up India on the world stage is with the view of a larger ‘containment’ strategy towards China. Beijing has opposed Indian membership into the NSG and demands that ‘all potential groupings’ (ie Pakistan) must also be considered for membership. The geo-strategic inconvenience for China posed by a clear path for India into the NSG is one that the former shall try to put off as long as possible. The West’s concern about China’s nuclear deal with Pakistan has also put Beijing in the spotlight, making its position highly inflexible. Given the consensus-based decision-making process of the NSG, the regional geopolitical implications of Indian membership to the NSG for China shall remain the most potent obstacle to the fruition of the project.
The US assuming the chairmanship of the NSG, according to Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, will give a ‘final impetus’ to Indian membership into the organisation. Coupled with the rising stakes and current support of both France and Russia in the Indian case, the time is ripe for progress on the front of Indian membership into the NSG. Though the process is bound be a long drawn one given Chinese stakes, the US ‘non paper’ (http://bit.ly/MPdWG6) on Indian membership and NPT membership not being a necessary precondition for being in the NSG at the Seattle plenary session in June 2012 has certainly given a boost to Indian hopes.
Research Scholar, Diplomacy and Disarmament Division, CIPOD, JNU
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