By Prakhar Gupta:
Having acted as the cause of its formation at one point, India has been actively lobbying for a place in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an elite club of 48 member states that control the export of sensitive nuclear technology and material.
While the United States and other member countries expressed strong support for India’s membership bid, China remained defiant and opposed India’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in the plenary discussion held in Seoul. Reasons behind China’s resistance are not beyond its self-interests, but it is interesting to see that the country has sighted India’s non-signatory status to the NPT as the cause of its concern, despite having violated Article I of the NPT itself by providing magnets and other sensitive nuclear technology to Pakistan.
India, which is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), signed a Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008 and gained limited access to international nuclear trade after waivers from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. As a part of this deal, India separated its civilian nuclear facilities from its military use infrastructure and placed them under IAEA safeguards. By agreeing to do so, India has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to tag and track nuclear material imported from international partners, thereby ensuring that the imported nuclear material is not used for its weapons program.
Gaining access to international nuclear supplies has worked well for India, which now has diversified and reliable sources to fuel its civilian nuclear reactors placed under IAEA safeguards. It has not only helped India in boosting its civilian nuclear program, but by ensuring international nuclear supplies for civilian reactors, India can now effectively divert a great chunk of indigenous nuclear supply (if not the entire) for the production of fissile material for military use. Before receiving waivers from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008, India – which has just over 1% of proven global uranium deposits, utilised indigenous supplies for both civilian and military use. Membership to the nuclear trade group could have provided India with a much greater access to international nuclear supplies. With greater resources to fuel military use reactors, India’s nuclear weapons program is bound to grow faster than it ever has.
The balance of conventional power in South Asia rests in India’s favour, and this fact has driven Rawalpindi’s urge for a larger nuclear arsenal. It hasn’t stopped yet, and to cover its growing conventional insecurity, it has developed battlefield nuclear weapons in response to India’s ‘cold-start doctrine’. India’s membership to the nuclear suppliers group would have contributed to a sense of insecurity, and the arsenal that was positioned to cover Pakistan’s conventional venerability could have grown exponentially to maintain the strategic balance of nuclear power in the sub-continent. This, in turn, could have set into motion a nuclear arms race, one in which the two nuclear powers tried to bring the other into check and balance.
The United States officially endorsed India’s bid for membership for its own interests, but the view in Washington is wide and clear. The United States views India as a counterbalance to China’s growing might and influence in Asia, and for this, a renewed nuclear arms race in South Asia is a small price to pay. “What you are doing is creating an action-reaction that is leading to a never-ending escalation cycle that ultimately leads to the development of nuclear weapons including battlefield nuclear weapons,” Senator Markey warned US Assistant Secretary for South Asia Nisha Biswal.
Growth in India’s nuclear weapons program can be attributed to the fact that India has refused to place Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under IAEA safeguards and has also kept certain civilian use power reactors out of the safeguarded list to feed into the PFBR. Creation of strategic reserves and access to sophisticated nuclear technology is bound to create insecurity in Pakistan, which will respond by expanding the size of its nuclear deterrent.
With two allied, hostile Nuclear powers at its doorstep, India has limited options. While India certainly has a conventional edge over Pakistan, it does not enjoy any such privilege over its northern neighbour. The threat bell rang in New Delhi after China’s nuclear explosions in 1964 and paved way for India’s nuclear gamble in the early 1970s. India’s full-fledged testing in 1998 led to explosions in Pakistan. For New Delhi, a nuclear China continues to be a threat to national security and with this in mind, the policymakers decided to define ‘credible minimum deterrence’ in line with perceived threats from China.
India, caught between two hostile powers, has no other option but to grow its nuclear deterrence in order to credibly deter China’s ever-growing nuclear and conventional power. But what can credibly deter China would be anything but minimal with respect to Pakistan. India now finds itself caught in an unavoidable nuclear arms race, where it’s bound to grow its arsenal in response to China’s modernization, and in turn provokes a response from Rawalpindi. In the global order, where Pakistan views India as a rival, India views China as a threat and China views the United State as a corrival, only collaborative international efforts to address individual security concerns can prevent a nuclear arms race.