Friday July 01, 2022

The NSG debate

August 15, 2016

There is an extremely urgent need to address the energy crisis in Pakistan. For this reason, the government of Pakistan submitted a membership application earlier this year to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an international body that essentially regulates nuclear trade. If granted membership, Pakistan will be able to import vital nuclear components and materials required to produce and generate more electricity.

The current administration has set an important goal of producing 40,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. The idea behind ‘Nuclear Energy Vision 2050’ is that uninterrupted supply of electricity will develop the economy and in turn improve the lives of all Pakistani citizens.

The only challenge Pakistan faces in its bid for NSG membership is that a core requirement for any state to be considered is that it must be a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, commonly referred to as the NPT, and Pakistan is not.

There are nine nuclear weapon states, and of the nine, four have not signed the NPT; these are Pakistan, Israel, India, and North Korea, which withdrew from the treaty. These four states are referred to as non-NPT nuclear weapon states.

Barring North Korea, the reason the other three have not signed the NPT is that they acquired nuclear weapon state status after the treaty had been introduced. The treaty only recognises the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France as nuclear weapon states.

If Pakistan were to sign the NPT today, it would first have to give up its nuclear weapons. This is the same in the case of India, North Korea, and Israel. This requirement is discriminatory and, due to the very real security threats that Pakistan faces, not realistic. Until we talk about nondiscriminatory global disarmament, none of the four current non-NPT states are likely to give up their nuclear weapons.

In the context of tNSG membership, Pakistan is not the only state facing this dilemma, India has also submitted a membership application, and needs the NSG so it can expand its civilian nuclear programme to address its energy requirements. And in the near future Israel or even North Korea perhaps might want to join the NSG.

The NSG has two options as far as these non-NPT weapon states are concerned: stick to the initial guidelines for membership, requiring that all states seeking membership sign the NPT, or develop new guidelines, which will require developing a merit based system for considering membership applications for non-NPT weapon states.

There are pros and cons of both these options, but it is the second option of creating a new criterion-based or merit-based system that makes the most sense.

The NSG was created in response to India’s nuclear test in 1974. The purpose of this organisation at the time was, and still is, to stop further proliferation by regulating the international nuclear trade. Keeping the nonproliferation goal of this organisation in mind, it is logical to then say that it would be better if all nuclear capable states were given an opportunity to join because they would have to abide by the organisational rules for nuclear trade, strengthening the global nonproliferation regime. The chances of nuclear technology spreading are far greater if nuclear capable states are not included in the NSG.

Keep in mind that just having nuclear weapons, or nuclear technology should not be the criteria for membership alone. The state must prove that it is committed to the nonproliferation principle of the NSG. The burden of proof of this commitment should be on the state that is applying for membership.

Let’s explore Pakistan’s merits.

There is a recognised need for nuclear energy in Pakistan, and it has the technological capabilities to not only just import nuclear materials for its power sector, but is also able to supply nuclear-related technology, listed on part one and part two of the NSG supply list.

Pakistan’s export controls are fully in compliance with those of the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime and the Australia Group. In recent years, Pakistan has implemented broad measures to strengthen nuclear safety and security.

Just this past week, in addition to the official statement declaring a unilateral nuclear test moratorium, Sartaj Aziz suggested turning its unilateral moratorium into a bilateral arrangement on banning all nuclear tests with India. This principle stance on nuclear testing is not new. Pakistan has been a strong proponent and supporter of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for two decades, and even voted for the treaty in 1996 at the UN.

Earlier this year, Pakistan ratified the 2005 amendment to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). Pakistan is also committed to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has a very good relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA uses Pakistan’s Center for Nuclear Excellence as a regional hub to teach and promote nuclear safety and security practices.

In addition to being a nuclear power, Pakistan is strongly committed to the principles of the NSG, as is evident by their actions. The NSG should strongly consider Pakistan’s membership application on this basis. As a member, Pakistan will help strengthen the NSG non-proliferation objectives.

The NSG should establish robust criteria for non-NPT weapon states, and if their standards are met (as is in the case of Pakistan), then the NSG should accept their membership application. This will not only improve the global nonproliferation regime but will make it impossible for states to spread nuclear technology to others.

The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad. Twitter: @umarwrites.