Despite India’s fervent push for admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the country remains outside the elite body that regulates nuclear trade worldwide – for now. DW examines the reasons behind this.
For the past several weeks, India’s central foreign policy goal had been to secure membership of the NSG – a 48-nation grouping that controls the export of technology and materials used to generate nuclear power and make atomic weapons.
New Delhi hoped the body would respond positively to its all-out diplomatic campaign at the NSG meeting held in South Korean capital Seoul on June 23-24.
But the frenetic efforts by Indian diplomats have failed to bear fruit due to overtly strident opposition to the South Asian nation’s inclusion from China and objections raised by a few other NSG members like Turkey – saying that India is yet to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
The NPT is an international treaty meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and arms technologies, while promoting peaceful use of nuclear energy. India refuses to sign it saying it is discriminatory in nature as it defines nuclear weapons states as those that tested nuclear devices before 1967.
A complex issue
In the statement released at the end of the meeting, the NSG said: “Participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.”
“The NSG had discussions on the issue of technical, legal and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states in the NSG and decided to continue its discussion,” it added.
The grouping takes decisions based on consensus and that’s why all members participating in the Seoul meeting had to agree for India’s bid to succeed.
“Although it makes sense for India to be a member of the group, it could take another 1-2 years for the group to discuss all of the issues and implications of bringing India in,” said Toby Dalton, an expert on non-proliferation and nuclear energy at the Washington-based think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“It isn’t a simple political matter, but has many legal, technical and policy implications that the group has not yet discussed,” he added.
The reason why India wants to join the club in the first place is because it believes being a member grants it easier access to technologies and materials that it needs to bolster its nuclear program.
The energy-hungry nation has grand plans to expand nuclear power to meet the surging electricity demand of its rapidly-growing economy. At the same time, becoming an NSG state would elevate the country’s prestige and end its embarrassing exclusion from an elite international body. New Delhi would be able to gain a seat at the high table setting the rules for nuclear commerce.
India’s admission would also mean the country becomes a member of the body that was ostensibly set up in response to its nuclear weapons test in 1974.
India says it’s eligible to become an NSG member citing its importance as a major producer and consumer of nuclear technology. It also notes that it has fulfilled all the obligations under the 2008 India-US deal aimed at increasing cooperation between the two countries in the nuclear arena.
Supporters and opponents
India’s bid has received vociferous support from leading Western nations like the US, the UK and France, which are seeking to stimulate nuclear commerce with New Delhi and strengthen strategic cooperation.
However, in Seoul, China emerged as the most ardent opponent, arguing against India’s entry as it has not signed the NPT.
“Applicant countries must be signatories of the NPT,” Wang Qun, the head of arms control department in China’s Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying in Seoul on Thursday night.
“This is a pillar, not something that China set. It is universally recognized by the international community,” Wang said according to a statement released by the Chinese foreign ministry on Friday.
To counter India’s bid, Beijing also said the NSG needed to develop guidelines for admitting non-NPT countries. It also linked India’s application with that of Pakistan saying that both should be considered simultaneously, irking New Delhi.
In an attempt to persuade China to give up its objections, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit held in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent on June 23-24. But Modi’s appeal failed to produce any shift in Beijing’s stance with Chinese diplomats attending the Seoul meeting maintaining their tough stand against India’s entry.
Opposition, to a lesser extent, also came from countries like New Zealand and Brazil, who believe granting India special treatment would weaken the current global non-proliferation regime. Turkey, on the other hand, maintained that the applications of both India and Pakistan should be treated equally.
‘Not a wise choice’
Furthermore, India’s setback is welcomed in Pakistan, which in the run up to the meeting had lobbied hard to scupper India’s bid. Islamabad has repeatedly stressed that admitting New Delhi alone into the club would threaten strategic stability in South Asia. Another concern for Pakistan is that after India becomes a member, New Delhi would block Islamabad’s entry.
Analysts say the NSG was not ready to make a decision on India’s membership in Seoul and forcing the group to confront this issue has meant a negative result. Carnegie’s Dalton notes that the accession process was “short-circuited” by political pressure from New Delhi and Washington.
“I think the strategy to politicize this issue and pressure NSG members to take a decision now was not a wise choice and could set back the discussions for some time,” he told DW.
“In India, I guess this will be seen as a foreign policy setback, but in most other capitals it is clear that India is a country on the rise and with which it is important to have good relations. I therefore don’t expect this will have a long-lasting negative impact,” said Dalton.