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Nuclear Suppliers Group

Significance: Yesterday China had reasserted its opposition to India’s membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), saying there is no change in its stand.It is actively opposing India’s bid primarily on the grounds that New Delhi is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

What is Nuclear Suppliers Group: The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a group of nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of two sets of Guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports. NSG was created following the explosion in 1974 of a nuclear device by a non-nuclear-weapon State (India with Smiling Buddha operation in Pokhran), which demonstrated that nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused.

Members of the NSG

Important Guidelines of NSG:

  • In 1992, NSG had established guidelines for transfers of nuclear-related dual-use equipment, material and technology which could make a contribution to an unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activity.
  •  By 2004, NSG Plenary had adopted a “catch-all” mechanism in the NSG Guidelines.It authorizes members to block any export suspected to be destined to a nuclear weapons program even if the export does not appear on one of the control lists.
  • In 2008, Participating Government of NSG adopted a policy on civil nuclear cooperation with the IAEA-safeguarded Indian civil nuclear program. Thus, effectively the members of NSG grant India a unique waiver exempting the South Asian country from the NSG’s rules governing civilian nuclear trade.

Arguments of China in opposing NSG membership:

  • India is not a member of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is an international treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. China argues that a non-signatory of NPT cannot be admitted to NSG.
  • Several other countries also argue about India’s credibility in nuclear space. NSG takes the decision on the basis of consensus. Therefore, even when some countries in the group have doubts, consensus cannot be reached.
  • China also argue that if India is admitted alone to NSG without considering other countries, it would disturb the nuclear-arms balance in South Asia as India will engage in a massive nuclear weaponisation programme.

Benefits of membership in NSG:

  • Stakeholder in nuclear power: With NSG membership, India can expand its nuclear power generation and also enter the export market in coming years.
  • Strengthen investments in India: Membership of NSG will provide greater certainty and legal foundation to India’s nuclear regime. This would also provide greater confidence to countries who invest billions of dollars for setting up ambitious nuclear power projects in India.
  • Technology transfer: Although nuclear technologies were available to India due to the nuclear waiver agreement of 2008 to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium, these were restricted to American technologies.Membership to the NSG will essentially increase India’s access to state-of-the-art technology from the other 47 members of the Group as well.
  • Raw materials: like Uranium will be more easily accessible to India. Currently, several agreements on the trade of raw materials are prohibited for India. For example, Treaty of Pelindaba which essentially controls the supply of uranium from Africa to the rest of the world effectively prohibits Namibia from dealing with India. If India can join NSG such restrictions will be washed away.
  • Commercialisation of nuclear power generation can be a possibility with NSG membership. It will help India’s flagship programmes of Make in India manufacturing and also to meet its climate change targets with regard to renewable sources of energy.
  • Diplomatic Victory: If India gains membership in NSG, she can use the hectic diplomatic strategies to get further membership in Wassenaar Agreement, Australia Group etc. Also, India can prevent Pakistan from entering into NSG.

Conclusion: Beijing’s reluctance on the question of NSG membership for India is a clear signal that India is and remains a major nuclear challenger to China. Beijing does not want India to be seated at any nuclear table as an equal. It shows the extent of India’s challenge in the Global Nuclear Order.Recently, NSG has drafted a proposal that lists ways for states, not the signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty to join Nuclear Suppliers Group. This paves way for India’s inclusion into NSG. However, India will have to give a commitment that it will not conduct any nuclear test and have to go by member states’ consensus on any Non-NPT party application, including that of Pakistan, for membership.

India has to diplomatically engage with all the countries to form a consensus within NSG without losing ground to other non NPT signed countries.