by Saima Aman Sial
If in future the NSG informal consultations take a sway in favour of so-called 'merit-based approach' propagated by India as opposed to objective criteria, the NSG states would have lost the opportunity to enforce the global nonproliferation norms.
The fate of the newcomers i.e. India and Pakistan, in the nuclear supplier's group, hasn’t been finalised yet; neither have been the criteria. The June Plenary and later the informal session weren’t able to decide on new memberships. The ball is in the court of the participating governments (PGs) who are certainly not thinking alike on the issue for some time.
This is important, as earlier the participating governments were arm twisted by the US administration in their haste for initiating nuclear commerce with India. Such was the nature of the 2008 NSG waiver granted to India to allow it to do nuclear commerce with NSG states. That was not all! The United States sold the waiver to the PGs on strong arguments of nonproliferation, i.e. being given the waiver; India would undertake tangible nonproliferation commitments to reciprocate the exception granted to it. Several NSG states including Austria, New Zealand, Ireland, Netherland, Norway and Switzerland, much like now, wanted to introduce amendments in the US proposed text of the exemption to include conditions, including periodic review of India's compliance with non-proliferation commitments; explicit exclusion of uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel technologies from what can be exported to India; and cut-off of all nuclear trade with India in case the country conducts another nuclear test. However, India kept insisting even then on keeping the waiver “clean and unconditional.” Resultantly, the exemption granted in 2008 reflected a biased decision taken by the PGs in sheer pressure from the US administration.
It is public knowledge that US President Obama reaffirmed his commitment with Indian Prime Minister Modi to get India into NSG before the change in administration, having expressed this desire earlier in 2010 to bring India into the fold of the multilateral regimes including NSG. To follow up on his promise, US kept arguing in the NSG plenaries that the factors to be considered for participation by the NSG were not mandatory and neither did they require a candidate to meet all criteria. Such has been the inherent nature of discrimination in the debate on the expansion of membership in the NSG.
The preceding debate sets the stage for discussion on the current expansion in NSG membership and prospects for India and Pakistan. The participating governments that insist on criteria for new membership are not merely seeking to use that as a ploy for keeping India out but are genuinely concerned with nonproliferation standing of the group. In the recently held informal session in Vienna in November, some twelve PGs reportedly took the floor and argued in favour of a balanced criteria based approach alongside several states holding back from taking a clear position on the issue. This is an interesting dynamic, which reflects a growing resilience amongst the PGs against succumbing to any geopolitical pressure and undermining nonproliferation standing of the group.
Any speculation about the future trajectory of the current membership process brings forth two different possibilities. One would be for the PGs to come forth with balanced criteria for non-NPT Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) in turn promoting the objective principles of nonproliferation. This would be a welcome move and will help in the normalisation of the nonproliferation regime by mainstreaming such states objectively. The second possibility, and which would significantly damage the nonproliferation principles and undermine strategic stability in South Asia, is to perpetuate exceptionalism by giving India membership based on the earlier granted NSG waiver, on a condition that it wouldn’t hinder Pakistan’s membership prospects at a later date. This is a commitment that India wouldn’t be obliged to fulfil later, barring Pakistan’s entry into the group. One could argue that since India is already a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Pakistan should apply for MTCR membership as a test case and see if India lets it get through; of which the chances seem very low. In this regard, some experts state that the PGs that insist on criteria are of the view that, “any decision on Indian admission to be based on non-proliferation criteria, rather than a special exception. They seek a decision-making process that would strengthen non-proliferation rules and allow for Pakistan also qualifying for NSG membership in the future. Otherwise, granting India membership now would give it a veto over Pakistan’s similar desire for admission to the consensus-based group.”
Pakistan would indeed be wary of developments that deny it the fair and equal chance of candidacy. Although Pakistan has taken tangible steps to demonstrate nuclear responsibility, including signature of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and 2005 amendment, unilateral adherence to the NSG guidelines, proposal for a bilateral test-ban to India and sharing of best practices in nuclear security through the Center of Excellence for Nuclear Security; some other measures that will add to this list can include a formal communication of adherence to the Article 1, 2 and 6 of the NPT, i.e. the intent to abide by the objective and purpose of the treaty. Moreover, it should lobby for criteria that would promote putting all civilian nuclear facilities and materials of prospective members under IAEA safeguards. Such an approach would also help assuage Pakistan’s concerns about the Indian fissile material that is designated civilian but still kept outside the safeguards.
As the US administration transitions from Obama to Trump, it is to be seen if the new President-elect Trump would be willing to invest a similar amount of political capital into the Indian membership bid as President Obama had done. It can be gathered from the flavour of his campaign politics as well as his general disposition that he might be wary of multilateralism and let the issue of membership take its own course. This may turn out to be a positive development, as it may allow a greater leverage to the PGs of NSG to take decisions independent of the US pressure.
If in future the NSG informal consultations take a sway in favour of so-called ‘merit-based approach’ propagated by India as opposed to objective criteria, the NSG states would have lost the opportunity to enforce the global nonproliferation norms and in turn lose all moral ground to preach nonproliferation to non-NPT NWS.
The writer is a Senior Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad and a former Nuclear Nonproliferation Fellow Monterey California, USA.