On November 11, the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group will meet to review the process of membership for states like Pakistan and India, which possess nuclear weapons but are not party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Membership to the NSG is necessary for countries wanting to engage in global nuclear commerce. The group was created as a response in large part to India’s illegal test explosion of a nuclear device in 1974. The purpose of the group was and continues to be to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.
The group last held a meeting earlier this year to vote on India’s membership bid. The June plenary of the NSG in Seoul was disastrous for India because a number of countries, led by China, opposed India’s membership. These countries argued that granting India membership would weaken the overall non-proliferation regime and would undermine decades of non-proliferation efforts by the international community.
Blinded by economic interests, President Barack Obama promised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would do everything in his power to ensure that India was granted membership during his tenure as president. With the US presidential elections scheduled tomorrow, this is the last chance for Obama to try and fulfil his vow.
The June plenary clearly highlighted the need to address the question of how to go about granting a non-NPT state membership. In the past, member states have caved to American pressure of bending the rules but this time China, along with other prominent countries, is standing up to the pressure by demanding a criteria-based approach to membership rather than the personalised approach of the past.
In a one-on-one meeting last week in Washington DC, General Khalid Kidwai, the former guardian of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, argued that a criteria-based approach is the best way forward for the group to determine membership, adding that discrimination at this level does not work. The general also said that geopolitics should not be a deciding factor, and that all membership applications should be judged on merit.
The majority of the NSG member states also feel that there should be no double standard for entry into the group. Mexico’s president, in showing his support for India’s application this past summer, also stated that the conditions under which India is granted membership should be applied equally to all applicants.
There are serious concerns that if India is granted membership it will continue to vertically proliferate, as it has done since being granted a special exemption from the NSG in 2008.
In the past decade alone, India has increased its nuclear arsenal three fold; it has nuclearised the Indian Ocean by introducing a nuclear submarine capable of carrying nuclear weapons and is now building an entire city dedicated to producing thermonuclear weapons.
India has time and again proven itself to be an irresponsible nuclear power. If granted membership there is no guaranteeing that it will not continue to damage the international non-proliferation regime.
In securing its exemption in the first place, India made multiple commitments to the international community to prove to them that it was a responsible nuclear power. But to this day India has failed to live up to any of the commitments it made.
The Bush administration, much like the Obama administration now, thought that if it worked with India and granted them a civil-nuclear cooperation deal and got them an exemption from the NSG somehow India would automatically stop proliferating and comply with the international standards of a responsible nuclear power.
President Bush failed to get India to fulfil its obligations as part of the civil nuclear agreement because his logic was flawed to begin with, the same as President Obama.
Granting India membership will not mean that tomorrow India will stop producing fissile material or making new nuclear weapons. There is no doubt in my mind that on November 11, at the NSG conclave in Vienna, China along with other member states will stick to their original positions and oppose India’s inclusion into the group. Instead of trying to pressure and blackmail countries to support India’s membership bid, the US should take this opportunity to work with their partners in the NSG to come up with a criteria for membership.
The criteria should demand that any country not a party to the NPT should prove its merit by meeting the group’s standards. They should also revoke India’s current waiver and ask it to reapply after meeting the criteria. The back bending, discriminatory approach towards membership should be abandoned. Whatever criteria the group decides on should be applicable to all applicants.
The writer is a defence analyst in Washington DC. Twitter: umarwrites