Setback for India?
In yet another setback for the Indian government, China on Monday said it continues to oppose India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) until a consensus is arrived upon on the membership of nuclear weapon states that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For the uninitiated, the NSG is a 48-nation club that frames and implements the rules for exporting nuclear equipment and fissile material with an aim to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Civilian nuclear power is one of the cornerstones of India's energy policy. In recent years, the Modi government has made India's membership to the NSG a major focus of its diplomatic efforts. New Delhi has gone on to assert that India's participation in the international body would "further strengthen nuclear non-proliferation and make global nuclear commerce more secure".
Beijing's decision to reject India's bid yet again comes ahead of its next plenary in Bern, Switzerland, where India's membership bid will come up for discussions. New Delhi made a formal request for membership last May, but several countries, led by China, blocked it at the last plenary in Seoul, saying India was not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and thus ineligible. Beijing's actions come from its desire to support its ally, Pakistan, which has also applied for membership. Pakistan is also not a signatory to the NPT. But more than that Pakistan has a poor record as a proliferator of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. In other words, Pakistan is unlikely to receive much support from other NSG members.
Is NSG membership critical to our nuclear energy programme? Experts contend that membership will make no real difference. India already has access to essential nuclear technology, as a result of the waiver granted for the 2008 US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Under the one-time exemption, India agreed that it would follow any rules that the NSG may make in the future. NSG membership is also unlikely to matter much regarding uranium supply. India has already finalised agreements with the likes of Canada and Australia, among others, for the provision of uranium. "In fact, membership of the group will not immediately open up nuclear trade as India has already pledged not to transfer nuclear know-how to other countries," according to T.P. Sreenivasan, a former Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Membership of the NSG will only mean greater pressure on us to sign the NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and commit in advance to a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which would impose restrictions on existing stockpiles of fissile material." The only possible benefit that India may hope to reap is to participate in the NSG's rule-making process. Membership to the NSG is one of the steps towards the much-desired aim of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. However, despite its stated objective, the NSG has been ineffective in countering proliferation. China's decision to supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan faced meek opposition and is counter to its statement on non-proliferation in Vienna, last year. Moreover, unlike India, Pakistan did not even bother to seek an exemption under the NSG. International prestige and a desire to sit at the high-table seem to have driven the Modi government's decision to seek NSG membership. However, a failure to convince China will not mean the end of the world for India.