An irrelevant NSG campaign, an underestimated China and a changing world order


Manik Jain

The plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) held in Seoul of South Korea last month ended with an expected yet disappointing result for India, stating that the ‘elite’ group of 48 countries won’t include any new member within themselves that is not a NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty) or CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) signatory. The members eventually opted to stand by the rules and stated that India’s entry within the group would be a discriminatory move against other NSG aspirants. It must be noted, that NSG is not an international treaty. It is a group of states that seek to contribute towards non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of guidelines for nuclear and nuclear-related exports.

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However, it is important to re-examine the terms based on which India has been claiming a permanent membership of NSG. India has always stood by the contention that being a signatory to the NPT is not a precondition for NSG membership. It has been stating that its membership will further strengthen nuclear non-proliferation and secure the global nuclear commerce. Apart from this, India has also been claiming to combat climatic change and that a NSG seat for India is in favour of global interests. On the other hand, the China led opposition has been asserting strongly the
pre-condition of signing the NPT, which apparently seems to have weighed with the NSG members.

Though, things appear to be in favour of Pakistan’s intentions, but the moves of the Chinese have been directed to their own national interests. With a strong backing from the US, and growing relations with Australia and Japan, China, at any cost, in not willing to give India an edge over or equivalent to itself.

As far as India is concerned, such campaigning and exaggerated relevance seems like a wasted effort since it is already enjoying a ‘waiver’ from the NSG, granted in 2008. As per the waiver, India has to maintain secrecy of the sensitive nuclear technology or materials from other states and to uphold its moratorium on testing of nuclear weapons. In return, it gained access to global nuclear market to procure nuclear reactors and nuclear products like ‘uranium’ for fulfilling its energy needs.

India already has gained substantially from the NSG waiver, without being a signatory of the NPT and compromise its nuclear weapons programme. Thus, it appears to be an unnecessary distraction from pursuing its strategic objectives i.e. to seek for a formal membership since India already has the option of getting into bilateral agreements with nuclear vendor countries and import reactors, uranium as well as fuel cycle technologies.

A disappointing attempt, though presents India with an alternative of evaluating priorities in the nuclear sector. Technically, a NSG membership wouldn’t have helped India either due to the amendment of ‘Paragraph 6’ of the NSG guidelines in 2010, which prohibits trade in enrichment and reprocessing with any country that is not a NPT signatory. Thus, as NSG was established in 1975 to target India, in response to 1974 Pokhran’s successful nuclear tests, the amendment was introduced to target India after the waiver of 2008. Thus, NSG or no NSG hardly makes any difference for  India. India should rather be focussing on its indigenous enrichment and reprocessing instead of this
partial membership.

A number of experts, have though, marked this is as a new revolution in India’s foreign policy where India unlike before, is openly acting and seeking to grab what it deserves. But the other side of the coin shows a different picture where India was onto a failed diplomatic quest. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and MEA Secretary S. Jaishankar were involved in massive campaigning to gain support from the member countries. Jaishankar spent a week in Beijing in order to persuade and earn Chinese Support. The PM himself, risking his prestige and authority flew all round the globe soliciting support from member countries. He even went over the line to meet the PRC President Xi Jinping in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and urged him to make a fair and objective assessment of India’s application on merit. But China, stood strong on its position.

However, it is not only the front faces that should be blamed for this, given the fact that a huge number of external affairs officials and foreign policy mandarins form the brain of the government, it is an irony as to how and why didn’t they interpret the fore comings which were clearly visible. They even ignored a rising China and the extent of its influence over the global decision-making in the present-day era. The ironical mystery involves Modi too, as to why he, with all his political sense and experience staked his reputation on an issue whose intrinsic importance didn’t deserved to be escalated to this level. A political leader with a statute like his is expected to win whenever he steps in to fight. But it must be made sure that fight is for a problem worth being taken up as that of longfostering border issue and not the membership of a motley forum like NSG. The government clearly made a blunder out of this by underestimating China and also by clearly ignoring the objections of other member countries of NSG. They clearly seem to have assumed that a US backing and support from other leading industrial countries would be all that is needed to help India go through the diplomatic hurdle. They must have linked this situation with the diplomatic row that had erupted following China’s opposition on granting NSG waiver to India, but was eventually settled when the US president Bush made a personal phone call to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. The same analogy which was expected to be successfully executed seems to have fired back onto the external affairs establishment.

Another major lesson earned from the recent happenings, is the change in the world order. A China which usually avoided standing alone and being highlighted in the spotlight has openly expressed its intentions and views as if it was ready to take on the driving seat of the global order. Countries like Austria, Turkey & Switzerland realizing the changing circumstances joined China ignoring US’s request. Brazil and South Africa, members of BRICS and close strategic partners of India, too joined the opposite bloc noticing the weigh scale of power. The world is now witnessing a China of Xi Jinping which unlike Jintao’s China openly takes stand on what it believes and stands unconditionally beside what it thinks is true. As far as India is concerned, a re-examination of nuclear technology options and policy correction is expected, in order to adjust to the new realities. Be it the Breeder Reactor Programme (BRP) or a diplomatic loop-hole, what is needed is that India acts and acts fast so that it enables itself to stand on its own legs in energy management without needing extraneous props of any kind.

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