NSG membership: Exceptional approach is risky

By Amanullah Khan

NSG politics would continue to affect power equilibrium in South Asia. This is primarily because of a lobbying group that pursues double standards in favor of India. Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG) which was created in response to the covert Indian nuclear weapons program, its mandate is being hijacked to grant membership to the same country. This is against the spirit of the NSG and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The first step to favor India was taken in 2008 when it was exempted from the comprehensive IAEA safeguards so that it could conduct civil nuclear trade with the NSG member states. This special waiver paved the way for India to ink nuclear agreements with France and America in the same year.

Pakistan is also eager to join the Group. Pakistan is facing acute energy deficiency that is imperative for its economic development. Access to advance nuclear technology with the club members would help Pakistan overcome its energy needs. Strategic stability in the region is another objective of Pakistan which is linked with Indian membership. Pakistan believes that the existing threats to non-proliferation regime should be addressed collectively through fair practices. Exceptional policies in favor of India would disturb balance of power in the region.

Regarding new membership procedure, Pakistan calls for criteria based approach instead of country specific or exceptional approach. Indian scholars are of the view that criteria based approach would not help Pakistan’s case for membership because decisions at NSG meetings are restricted to political consensus by all the Group members. They also believe that linking application for the membership to Indian one reflects lack of confidence on Pakistani part to join NSG on merit. Such kinds of psychological moves and deceptive narratives coming from India talk more of the frustration level at Indian end.

Like others international issues, US and China are major stakeholders in the NSG politics between India and Pakistan. Apparently, there is a tussle between the two on the extending membership to Pakistan and India. Washington is supporting Indian bid for membership, while China is asking for the inclusion of Pakistan—indirectly. China is keeping a close eye on western support to India because it is aware of US’ attempts to engage /contain China. Besides NSG membership, Indian Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program is a matter of concern for China. America, of course, has a big say in nuclear politics in the world. To some experts, the US government does not consider the NPT member condition as an NSG’s criteria for granting member of the Group. It contends this as a factor of consideration, but not mandatory. Instead, it emphasizes on other factors like applicant’s non-proliferation record and domestic export control mechanism.

It could be argued that some NPT and NSG members have also been involved in proliferation of nuclear technology. Their non-proliferation record is not clean and their biased policies have damaged the non-proliferation regime. Nevertheless, Pakistan understands its international nuclear obligations and has established Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) which fully cooperates with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The international agency monitors all civil nuclear facilities of Pakistan. Domestically, Pakistan has established a robust command and control structure, National Command Authority (NCA), that ensures safety and security of the nuclear program. Regionally, Pakistan has proposed India to go for an agreement with it on nuclear non-testing. It is India which is reluctant to any such measure that could put limit on its nuclear weapons program. The above noted measures from Pakistan support the objectives of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, thus make it eligible to become member of NSG.

To sum up, it could be said that in the chaotic and shaky international order, interests of stronger nations matter only. The interest-oriented tussle among major powers leads them to a biased approach in their foreign policies that ultimately put world peace at a risk. Modi’s government is putting untiring efforts to garner support for his country’s entry into the Group; however, it would not be easy for it to convince all the Group members. Political consensus can only prevail through criteria based approach. Pakistan’s entry into the Group seems a reality in such a scenario. Along with China, some other countries like, Turkey, South Africa, Ireland and Austria also support criteria based approach.

There are many influential voices who have raised questions on the exceptional approach. US Senator, Ed Markey, had warned about a possible nuclear race in South Asia if India alone is granted membership. Likewise, the NSG chairman, Ambassador Rafael Grossi, has ruled out a “tailor made India-specific solution” for NSG membership. Above all, nuclear community widely believes that exceptional approach undermines the credibility of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Pakistan should continue to effectively fight its case for membership. It deserves the right to be given membership of the Group. Regional strategic stability is already at stake due to India’s hostile agenda. Its relations with Pakistan have steadily deteriorated since Modi government came to power. His agenda talks of India as a hegemonic power in the region. NSG membership would further Indian great power ambitions. In such a situation, Pakistan reserves the right to safeguard its national security interests by whatever means possible. Pakistan should keep on attracting world attention that country-specific approach would put regional security at a risk in many ways. Instability in the region would also undermine peace in the world at large. Lastly, it should be noted that if India is granted membership ever, it would perhaps never let Pakistan become member of the Group.

Amanullah Khan is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. He can be reached at:

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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