The ideological foundations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) are based on non-proliferation of nuclear materials and the prevention of nuclear weapons buildup.
Unfortunately, the group has instead become more of a cartel comprising of the major powers that is aimed at benefiting their own economies through nuclear trade. India’s likely inclusion into the NSG (in the coming years) while being supported by the West and other member states would ultimately justify this critique as this would greatly benefit their economies at the expense of their commitment to non-proliferation. This raises questions on the credibility of the entire mechanism of the NSG in terms of its non-proliferation agenda and the practices it has adopted for granting membership to non-NPT states.
The creation of the NSG was aimed at controlling the export of nuclear materials and technologies which could be used to make a ‘nuclear bomb’.
As a politically binding group, the NSG currently has 48 participating governments. These include US, Russia, Canada, France, Australia, and Kazakhstan which are major exporters of nuclear materials and technology, who are also India’s primary suppliers.
The NSG aims to facilitate the export of nuclear materials and related technologies based on certain key principles to ensure that they are used for peaceful purposes. This in turn is carried out by the NSG via coordination between the member states such as in the imposition and regulation of export control guidelines. Both India and Pakistan are seeking NSG membership since 2016 with their prospects of being inducted remaining a major agenda of the NSG’s recent plenary meetings.
It is worth noting here that entry into the NSG carries a certain set of pre-requisites which include; the capability of a country to supply the goods enumerated in the guidelines of the NSG, a demonstrated willingness to apply NSG guidelines, the existence and proper implementation of a legally binding national export control regime in line with the rules of the NSG, membership of the NPT or comparable regional treaty and a willingness to support international efforts for the non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Apart from these, certain elements such as employing best practices related to nuclear safety and security by an applicant also play an important role for an applicant’s case to be considered.
Based on these pre-requisites, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), serves as a core element of the NSG forming its very foundation. It allows for the peaceful use of nuclear energy by its signatories, while restricting the use of nuclear energy to non-nuclear weapons states to prevent the buildup of nuclear weapons.
India and Pakistan along with Israel and North Korea are non-NPT nuclear weapon states which are either recognized or widely suspected to possess nuclear weapons. At the present however, while it is India that is being favored by the US and other Western states for the NSG membership, China stands in opposition to India’s entry asserting that there is no precedent for the inclusion of non-NPT states. This has made India’s entry difficult as the group is guided by the consensus principle.
This was also evident during the 29th plenary meeting held recently on 21-22 June 2019 in Nur-Sultan Kazakhstan. The primary agenda of the meeting was focused on discussing the technical, legal and political issues regarding entry of non-NPT members into the NSG. China has a clear stance that there should be specific plan adopted by the NSG in this regard. China’s position vis-à-vis India thus remains that it would likely block India’s entry into the NSG as the latter is not willing to sign the NPT.
However, the meeting failed to reach any consensus on the membership of new states as well as the criteria to be adopted for the inclusion of non-NPT states.
India’s alleged membership of the NSG would likely impact the global non-proliferation regimes which form the very basis of the NPT. In that scenario, the NSG would likely lose its credibility as the widespread criticisms leveled against it for creating a dichotomy of nuclear haves and haves-not would become even more justified. If that is the case, Pakistan though a non-NPT state also deserves membership of the NSG based on solid grounds of experience, technical expertise, capability, clear division of civilian and military programs and the commitment to nuclear safety.
For now, the NSG hasn’t decided to induct new non-NPT members. As a major non-proliferation group, the NSG has been facing some critical issues. The Indo-US nuclear deal and the NSG’s nuclear exemptions to India have become significant for the NSG itself in terms of the credibility of this group.
In any case if India is granted membership of the NSG (which might occur in coming years), it would likely change the nature of the NSG as a non-NPT state would be getting membership, not based on any pre-set criteria but on the basis of its political lobbying and extracting favors from other influential members of the NSG such as the US and Russia. This would likely pave way for the NSG to move away from its own provisions undermining its own set guidelines.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group was established to manage nuclear exports and promote non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The membership of NSG for India based on by-passing these criteria would thus serve as a test case for its participating governments. It would likely raise questions on the foundation of the NSG and that whether the group was still committed to working towards nuclear non-proliferation, or is merely engaged in enhancing the nuclear material exports of influential countries to the sole benefit of their own economies.
*The writer is working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.