India’s NSG application raises serious non-proliferation concerns

By Sharon Squassoni Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/23 0:13:00

When the 48 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meet in plenary session in Seoul this week, they will consider India's application for membership in the nuclear trade cartel. This comes almost nine years after the NSG decided to lift its ban on nuclear trade with countries outside the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) just for India.

Ordinarily, export control regimes tend to welcome new members, because more members extend the range of restrictive practices and therefore help stem the proliferation of dangerous technologies. Indian membership, however, is being eyed suspiciously within the NSG ranks as a Trojan horse, a gift that could have unanticipated and possibly devastating consequences for a group that was created more than 40 years ago to support nuclear non-proliferation and the NPT.

The issue? India has been the classic proliferator state. It never joined the NPT, has consistently criticized the NPT for decades, and its nuclear test in 1974 was the catalyst for creating the NSG because it proved that peaceful nuclear energy cooperation and trade could be misused for military purposes. From 1992, India was subject to an NSG ban on trade with countries outside the NPT.

The NPT itself has no restrictions on trade; it simply obligates non-nuclear weapon states not to seek or manufacture nuclear weapons and obligates nuclear weapon states not to help other states do that either. India, outside the NPT, has no such obligations.

Supporters argue that Indian membership has benefits: It will ensure that a country that can make nuclear weapons does not proliferate its expertise, equipment or technology further. Since India will never join the NPT, isn't that better than nothing? And yet the Bush administration argued in 2008 that India deserved the NSG exemption because of what it said was its "historically good" export control behavior.

Oddly enough, the Bush administration never publicly promised India membership in the NSG because that would have been a bridge too far in 2008. As it was, many NSG member states were appalled at the blatant politics of allowing an exception for one country to the NSG rules. The Bush administration countered that the NSG trade exemption would encourage India to take other important non-proliferation steps, like supporting a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, a treaty to halt fissile material production for nuclear weapons and enhanced export control regulations. 

Under the US Congress Hyde Act, India was required to adhere to NSG guidelines as a demonstration of its non-proliferation commitments, so becoming a member of the NSG has no positive non-proliferation benefits. Instead, it seems to be an Indian bid for further legitimation of its nuclear weapons status. All of this is anathema to India's nuclear rival, Pakistan. Pakistan too has applied for membership in the coveted NSG, arguing that the NSG should not be discriminatory in its practices. The costs and benefits of Pakistani membership are similar to those of India's, except that Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan tarnished Pakistan's record considerably when he sold centrifuge technology to Iraq, Iran and Libya. 

China has skated a thin line on these issues. It has opposed Indian membership on the grounds of creating an exception for one non-NPT member state, but has also suggested that NSG members should discuss more generally whether or not non-NPT countries should be admitted to the group. Whether this is a bid to keep all non-NPT members out (which would include India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) for the sake of the non-proliferation regime or to bring India and Pakistan into the NSG at the same time is unclear.

China is right to stand firm on opposing Indian NSG membership, but not because it would be unfair to allow India entry and not Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan have a long way to go to prove their commitments to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. China should lead the way toward setting strong standards for new membership in the NSG that reaffirm the basic objectives of the NSG. Anything less undermines the nuclear non-proliferation regime and puts politics above security.

The author is senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Posted in: Asian Review

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