Criteria, candidacy and upcoming NSG plenary meeting

By Maimuna Ashraf

Currently, major challenges that may fall within the critical issues of the NSG that it confronts in nuclear politics of 21st century is the induction of more members especially the states that are not party to the NPT. The most important and controversial is membership of India and Pakistan in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Although NSG was created against the Indian nuclear test of 1974; it is surprising to observe that even the NSG’s revised guidelines of June 2013 do not mention India directly; the country whose nuclear weapon test became responsible for the creation of NSG in the first place. Three dimensions to the whole issue are significant, First dimension is Commercial lobby; it is presumed that US. Commercial purpose was main idea behind Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005 and later in 2008 when waiver was granted to India. Second is the politics of norms. If norms are main factor behind nuclear politics then Indo-US nuclear deal and NSG waiver should strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime.  The third is the “geopolitical” perspective with strategic undertones. The ground realities illustrate that India’s politics and its membership of NSG has less to do with the economic or norms dimension and more influenced with geopolitics. The Indo-US deal on space technology existed since 2004 long before the Indo-US nuclear deal. Now it is believed that India will be able to enhance the sophistication of its missiles. Things further gained pace in 2010 and the idea was floated that India should be the member of all the four multilateral export control cartels such as Australia Group, MTCR, NSG and Wassenaar Arrangement. By then the NSG waiver had already been granted to India and recently India became member of MTCR. India now is the strategic partner of the US and enjoys more autonomy than other allies of the US.

At the last Plenary Meeting in 2016, the Indian bid to seek the NSG membership was blocked by more than 10 Participating Groups (PGs), including China, and Pakistan’s application also yielded no positive response due to their non-NPT status. Afterwards, the US and India increased their diplomatic efforts to convince NSG PGs including China, to accommodate India into the Group. However, the stalemate continued during the extraordinary meeting of the NSG PGs at Vienna in November 2016. At least 12 NSG members at the meeting called for a criteria-based approach. These included China, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Italy, Ireland, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil and Russia.  At that meeting China also maintained that any formula worked out should be non-discriminatory and applicable to all non-NPT states. Although, most of the NSG major powers possessing nuclear weapons have shown commendable amount of leniency to India including the recent Grossi Formula paving the way for India to secure a smooth entry into the NSG. Creating exceptions in most of the cases for India whilst ignoring the set criteria by lowering the restriction bar undermine credibility of the NSG and the international non-proliferation regime.

The next, 27th plenary meeting of the NSG is likely to be held in Swiss capital Bern this month on June 22-23, but the chances of any breakthrough on India’s entry into the elite group still look slim. The Swiss Spokesperson on the agenda of forthcoming plenary session said, “In this role, Switzerland will take into account the views of all participating governments and seek to guide the Group towards reaching consensus on the question of how to integrate non-NPT states.” Switzerland’s own position to support India’s membership remains the same as when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the country last year.

Since the revised NSG’s provisions talk about the criteria-based principles based on the unanimous consensus between the members, in the upcoming meeting, it would be challenging how the NSG could induct non-NPT states particularly possessing nuclear weapons into the NSG. There are certain criteria that could be followed, for instance, the NSG could follow its principles and allow only non-NPT states to become part of the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) before they join the NSG respectively. However, this strict criterion may not be acceptable to India and/or Pakistan which are nuclear weapons states. They have never joined the NPT rather these states would like to be recognized; obtaining a formal nuclear legitimacy like the P-5 major nuclear weapons states before they could become part of the NPT. The  other option is that NSG could relax the conditions through mutual consensus that are acceptable for both India and Pakistan as the non-NPT members allowing both India and Pakistan simultaneously into the NSG, enjoying the similar rights for peaceful uses of nuclear technology under the IAEA’s comprehensive safeguards without compromising on their nuclear weapons status. Conversely, creating exceptions for one state against the interest of another could jeopardize the credibility of the NSG in general and affect the strategic stability of South Asia in particular.

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Maimuna Ashraf

Maimuna Ashraf works as a Senior Research Associate for an Islamabad-based think tank Strategic Vision Institute. She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and South Asian nuclear equation. She writes for South Asian Voices, international blogs and national dailies.

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