India’s Bid for Membership to NSG- What went wrong?

By: Bijayalaxmi Nanda and Akshara Anirjita
Renewable Energy

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi in a bilateral meeting with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on June 23, 2016. Photo Courtesy: PIB

There is a general feeling today among some sections of the Indian public and the diaspora that the country has entered its best phase in diplomatic mediations. This sense of bonhomie that is being projected by the highest offices of the country unfortunately has not translated into much success at the negotiating tables. Losing the bid for membership to the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) is one such example. The NSG was set up around the same time as India was carrying out its Pokhran tests in 1974. It is true that India had acquired nuclear capabilities as early as 1970 and hence should have been a viable contender for the NSG right from its advent. However, the membership is being denied on grounds that India till date hasn’t completed a prerequisite guideline for joining the group – it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India which deems this treaty as that which adheres to an anachronistic hierarchy of powers, as it grants only the five winning powers of World War II the right to hold nuclear powers, is being said to be at a disadvantage when being considered for the NSG because of this decision.

The NPT and the NSG however are very different in their strategies as well as their capacities – the former is an international treaty, which is almost discriminatory in its objective and the latter is a group of “nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports”. What should also be noted is that while India is currently a part of neither legally binding non-proliferation groups its history of following the provisions of both and making leaps in the direction of nuclear disarmament in particular and world peace in general are appreciable. While India views the membership to the NPT as inessential, it recognises that a membership to the NSG on the other hand brings manifold gains. As a part of this trade-related governing body, India, an important world nuclear power, would finally have a voice in reforming inequitable non-proliferation policies and gain access to advanced nuclear technologies.

A significant opposition to the membership of India to the NSG comes from China. This opposition is especially significant because the NSG is a democratic assembly and opposition from any and every country is taken into consideration as it stands in the way of consensus. This opposition was a deciding factor and the recent NSG meeting in Seoul concluded without granting India membership. China believes that since India is not a part of the NPT it is ineligible to apply to the NSG. However, this is a flawed stance. Adhering to the NPT is a guideline and not a compulsory qualification for joining the NSG. China also believes that India’s membership to the NSG ‘jeopardises’ China’s national interests. Another argument that China brings up is that granting India membership to the NSG would touch a ‘raw nerve’ in Pakistan, which also has all the credentials for joining the group. However, this point too has little validity in the wake of the fact that Pakistan has a blemished and flawed proliferation record due to its engagement in the illicit supply of nuclear technology and materials to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Support for India’s membership to the elite group comes from another important player, the USA. “India has a strong record and we believe deserves to be included in the NSG,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a media briefing recently.

India is also trying to garner the support of other members of the NSG. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also assured India that Russia will make it a point to support India’s membership in any upcoming plenary session. India also has not given up in its efforts to sway China in its favour. It recently took the step of dispatching its foreign secretary S Jaishankar to Beijing to hold discussions on this and other important issues. India has also reached out to China to reiterate that its bid for membership of the NSG is not driven by any political or strategic deliberations but to enable the development of its clean and green nuclear energy programme. However, all of these efforts have not yet borne fruit.

The zeal and enthusiasm shown at the highest quarters, although important and a welcome change from the recent past, is not enough to deliver on this matter. Security concerns and strategic interests in the region do not have India in their mind yet. Diplomatic lobbying has to engage in a planned and sustained manner not just by the ‘fly by night’ much publicised visits of the Prime Minister. These ‘celebrated’ visits and bilateral bonhomie amongst the top leaders need to be followed by a conscious, well laid out plan of engaging through experts in international relations and the career diplomats in India. Harnessing the expertise that exists in the country through consultations, democratic deliberations and rational decision-making is the need of the hour. India’s position in the world as far as its membership of international bodies is concerned has been on the basis of its principle of dynamic neutrality. Whether it is India pioneering the policy of non-alignment or it playing a prominent role in conflict resolution during the Cold War, it is this unique brand of diplomacy that has delivered for us in the past.  The spirit of this need to be revived at this point.

Pakistan has China’s ear more than India does at this stage. This round of diplomacy therefore has in a sense been won by Pakistan. China with its One Belt One Road (0BOR) initiative which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran has clearly revealed its leanings in the region. India is also out of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group which consists of China, U.S, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This group has been created to discuss the future plans for Afghanistan and India has a lot at stake here. So clearly being kept out of this very significant group also sheds light on the gaps and limitations of our diplomatic mediations. It is time India puts its house in order, else the failure to gain membership of the NSG may be the first in a long line of cards that would collapse relegating India to a ‘poor second’ position in the region.

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