Making Sense Of NSG: How India’s History With Nuclear Arms Is Quite Complicated

Posted on July 1, 2016 in GlobeScope

By Vaibhav Mangla:

India’s recent bid to join NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) witnessed a sharp setback in Seoul, South Korea with China and seven other nations raising concerns about non-signatories to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) being admitted to the group. India had attempted a massive outreach to all the other countries for being part of the elite group with countries like USA, Switzerland, UK supporting India’s bid for the membership. The NSG, which provides its members with a framework under which they can take part in nuclear trade with the other nations, had already given India a country specific waiver in 2008 for accessing the nuclear technology of the US under the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement. But to understand the recent developments, we need to look at the history of the NSG and how it has implications in today’s context.

India And NSG

NSG was founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974. The tests showed that the non-weapons specific nuclear technology could be used by countries for making weapons and the limiting of this technology to the countries which had signed the NPT was essential. So, the NPT signatory countries came together to form the NSG group. India’s isolation from NSG group meant it was not able to expand its civil nuclear programme. In 1998, India conducted five more nuclear tests and it faced a lot of criticism and economic sanctions from the western world due to which its isolation regarding its civilian nuclear programme continued.

Then came president Bush who decided to drop all sanctions on India and talks on a civil nuclear cooperation started. Both President Bush and PM Manmohan Singh fought hard for the deal to materialise. President Bush, by getting an NSG waiver for India to access American nuclear technology for civilian purposes; and PM Manmohan Singh, by facing opposition from its own ally, the Left, and facing a no-confidence motion in the Indian Parliament which it won marginally.

This Indo-US nuclear deal and India’s non-proliferation record, even though it had not signed the NPT, led us to engage in civil nuclear commerce with many countries. India is currently negotiating the supply of advanced nuclear reactors from France and Russia among others. After signing the nuclear deal, the next step was to get membership of the four export control bodies MTCR, NSG, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group. But the previous government was slow in acquiring these memberships.

The Present Situation

The Modi government put on priority gaining the membership of these groups. He eased relations with Italy which was blocking India’s entry into MTCR by sending the two Italian marines who had killed Indian fishermen back. Finally, a few days ago India formally joined MTCR, paving the way for the country to access technologies that will boost its missile, space and unmanned aerial vehicle programmes. It will help India in exporting the Brahmos missile and buying drones from the US. But things did not look so bright for NSG membership.

With the US on its side and PM Modi and his foreign secretary trying hard by reaching out to the NSG members and getting their support for India’s membership, India was eagerly awaiting the NSG delegate meeting to be held on June 23, 2016, in Seoul. But China openly opposed India’s membership to NSG on the grounds that it had not signed NPT. Some other countries too opposed India’s entry into the elite club but the main opposition was from China and, as a result, India’s entry into the NSG was stopped.

What Next?

Now the application is before the NSG. They will meet again this year. India’s hopes of getting the membership, however, are slim because of continued opposition from China. India can also not sign the NPT since it will mean giving up the nuclear arms it currently has. Since India still enjoys most of the advantages of the NSG group due to the 2008 waiver, it can focus on the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group and wait till it can convince China to support their bid. At the same time, since China is not part of MTCR and now India is, it can block China’s entry into the MTCR and maybe trade it for the NSG membership in future. The path forward for India is difficult and will require careful strategic steps.

Featured image credit: Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images