NSG: The New Turf

There was intense pressure and a global campaign to get India admitted into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – a 48 member consortium created to control and regulate trade in fissile material and to prevent nuclear proliferation. Fortunately, it hit a dead end in the NSG meeting held in Seoul on June 23, 2016. That is not likely to be the end of the matter. In fact, I have a feeling that it will intensify India’s campaign to be accepted as a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS), while remaining outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That is an irony of immense proportions that the NSG, initially known as the London Group, was created as a consequence of the Indian nuclear test in 1974. India had surreptitiously diverted nuclear material from its CANDU atomic reactor, meant for research purposes, to its nuclear weapon program. The worst affected because of India’s indiscretion in 1974 was Pakistan. Whereas, India was left off with a mild slap on its wrist, Pakistan was forced to bear the brunt of India’s illegal activity. U.S. put all its diplomatic pressure on France to wriggle out of a plan to provide a nuclear re-processing plant to Pakistan and the fuel for the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) dried up. Pakistani scientists rose to the occasion and were able to fabricate fuel for Pakistan’s first nuclear power plant but for most of its life KANUPP operated on less than its optimal capacity.


For years now, India has slowly and gradually begun to be accepted as a nuclear power. In 2005, the U.S. had concluded a civil military nuclear deal with India and in 2008 it was on the forefront to get India a special waiver from the NSG. Pakistan wanted to oppose the move but it was arm-twisted into not putting up any opposition to this patently unfair concession. It is now well known, that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was set to post a strong letter opposing this deal but was asked by the government in power then, not to do so. The waiver gave India an occasion to strike dual technology deals with a number of countries including Australia, France, Japan and Kazakhstan to name a few.


Meanwhile India was plied with all kinds of concessions, waivers and exceptional nuclear treatment. Surely, this was not without a reason. The countries desiring closer nuclear and defence ties with India were eyeing a huge potential market that they could tap into and Pakistan was not in the same league.


India has been accepted as a strategic partner by the U.S. On the diplomatic front, they were ready to support its candidature for a permanent seat in the UN and on the nuclear front they were assured of the American support to become a member of the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Wassenar Group. The statements issued by the White House, the State Department and the Department of Defence were all strongly in favour of India. The U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter among others described the U.S. and India as natural strategic partners. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, was repeatedly applauded as he took swipes at Pakistan for harbouring terrorists.


The campaign to get India into the NSG failed because China and a number of other countries did not consider it strong enough to become an agenda point. An NSG applicant must be a signatory to the NPT or should belong to a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NFWZ). With the U.S. strongly supporting it, India had lobbied extensively for the NSG membership. The Indian Prime Minister had met the Chinese President on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Indian Foreign Affairs Secretary S. Jaishankar had made a last minute dash to Beijing to convince them of his country’s credentials. The Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had condescendingly said a few days earlier that India would not object to Pakistan also becoming a member of the NSG.


Now that the Indian campaign to enter the NSG has come to a grinding halt, there would be more plans afoot. The U.S. has been able to get India into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) without any problem. What could be the next step? Perhaps to steamroll the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Pakistan has been opposing it because it does not take into account the existing fissile material stocks. India currently is producing 7.7 times more fissile material than Pakistan. With existing stocks that are unaccounted for, India can fabricate many more warheads than Pakistan. The strategic stability in South Asia is highly skewered in India’s favour. Pakistan would need some glib diplomacy and a subtle balancing act to maintain the equilibrium.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and PhD. Presently he is the Associate Dean for Centre of International Peace & Stability (CIPS) at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST) Islamabad.

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