India’s Quest for NSG Membership

  India’s Quest For NSG Membership

India’s 30-year-old effort to secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council  has been receding like a mirage A similar, but less intense effort is on to seek admission to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Here again, there is no sign of India being invited, even as the 10-year moratorium on new membership has expired. India has now embarked on another quest, this time to seek membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Why is it difficult to allow India NSG membership?

  • The NSG was invented to prevent Indian advance towards possession of nuclear weapons after the technology demonstration test of 1974. If India joins it, the very nature of the NSG will change and dilute its fundamental position that all members should be signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
  • The NSG is an informal grouping and there is no precise procedure for seeking admission. But since the group takes all its decisions by consensus, it follows that new members should also be by consensus.

India-US Nuclear deal and NSG

The fundamental requirement that every member should be a signatory to the NPT was brought up not only by China but several others this time. There was similar opposition in the case of the exemption from NSG guidelines at the time of the India- US nuclear deal also, but our bilateral efforts and heavy lifting by the U.S. resulted in the exemption. US argued  that this would be a one-time exemption only with no strings attached. The US gave a concession to India, in its bid to win various contracts, including nuclear supplies.

 How useful can NSG membership be for India?

  • Membership of the group will not immediately open up nuclear trade as India has already pledged not to transfer nuclear know-how to other countries. If we attempt to dilute the guidelines to liberalise supply, it will be resisted by the others. Membership of the NSG will only mean greater pressure on us to sign the NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and commit in advance to a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which would impose restrictions on existing stockpiles of fissile material.
  • China has given scant attention to the NSG guidelines and has violated them in the case of Pakistan by claiming to act under an agreement reached before China joined the NSG. But the NSG did not even challenge the supply of two new reactors to Pakistan by China. The NSG’s ineffectiveness in countering proliferation makes it even less attractive as a group India should join.

Way forward for India

When India is not anywhere near the permanent membership of the Security Council and even APEC membership remains elusive, the high-level pursuit of NSG membership may give the impression that India is unrealistic in its expectations from the international community. Support from countries such as Switzerland and Mexico will not make any difference as there will not be a vote on the issue as decision is taken by consensus. The U.S. may reiterate its support, but the objection will come from China and even some others. It will be better for India to not concentrate much  on matters of marginal interest.