Several countries, led by China, had blocked India’s entry to the body, saying it was not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, thus ineligible. Visibly disappointed by the outcome, the government lashed out at China in a loaded statement.
"We understand that despite procedural hurdles persistently raised by one country (China), a three-hour long discussion took place last night on the issue of future participation in the NSG,” said Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs. The sharp statement pointing at China came just twelve hours after a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Tashkent.
At the summit, Modi urged China to make a “fair and objective assessment” of India’s application to become a member of the NSG. All India got was a snub. Beijing has argued that potential members must ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India has not. Although its argument based on procedural reasons is valid, it is no secret that Beijing’s actions come from its desire to support its ally, Pakistan, which has also applied for membership.
But in the public statement following its plenary in Seoul, the NSG said that the “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”. In other words, the NSG, including the US, called for the “effective implementation of the NPT”. This means that either India signs the NPT or stays out of the NSG.
Moreover, since 2011, the NSG has instituted a rule that would deny enrichment and the requisite technologies even to members if they have not signed the NPT. To 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.
Over the past few weeks, New Delhi has made India’s membership of the NSG the main 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”. Is NSG membership critical to our nuclear energy programme? Will India’s participation make nuclear commerce more secure?
Experts contend that membership will make no real difference. India already has access to key nuclear technology, as a result of the waiver granted for the 2008 US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Under the one-time waiver, India agreed that it would follow any rules that the NSG may make in the future. NSG membership is also unlikely to matter much in terms of uranium supply. India has already finalised agreements with the likes of Canada and Australia, among others, for the supply of uranium.
The only possible benefit that India may hope to reap is to participate in the NSG's rule-making process. However, despite its stated aim, the elite grouping has been ineffective in countering proliferation. China’s decision to supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan faced meek opposition. Moreover, unlike India, Pakistan did not even bother to seek an exemption under the NSG. One is not sure how India’s participation will stifle the likes of China and Pakistan.
International prestige and a desire to sit at the high-table seem to have driven the Modi government’s decision to seek NSG membership. Although the failure to convince China does not materially affect India’s nuclear energy programme, New Delhi’s image has taken an unnecessary beating.