Sunday March 26, 2023

India and the NSG waiver

February 16, 2016

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry recently observed that the US-India nuclear deal had impacted strategic stability in South Asia. Quoting recent reports by US-based Institute For Science And International Security and Nuclear Threat Initiative, he said that the waiver given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had allowed India to exponentially increase its fissile material stocks.

It is pertinent to mention that even in their reports during 2014 ISSI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, reported Indian plans for a new uranium enrichment facility aimed at expansion of its naval capacity and also indicated Indian efforts to pursue a thermo-nuclear option to enhance its nuclear weapons capability.

Pakistan has persistently been voicing its concern over the discriminatory treatment meted out to it in this regard and the likely repercussions for the region as well as tensions between the two countries.

Not only Pakistan but some members of the NSG were also opposed to the grant of a waiver to India by the NSG that allowed it to trade in the nuclear materials. They expressed the view that the move would undermine the credibility of the NSG, preferring the argument that India – being a non-signatory to the NPT – could not be granted waiver or membership of the NSG. However, the US manoeuvred a country-specific waiver for India which facilitated the latter to sign civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with over a dozen countries. Even these agreements were in violation of the spirit of an amendment that restricted supply of nuclear fuel to India and required that it should be proportionate to the legitimate requirements of Indian nuclear power plants.

It may be recalled that the NSG was formed in the wake of the 1974 nuclear explosion by India, which it was able to conduct due to its clandestine diversion of materials and equipment obtained from Canada and US for peaceful purposes to its weapons programme.

The NSG waiver to India owes to the eagerness of the US and its Western allies to strengthen ties with India as part of protecting their strategic interest in the regions as well as grabbing defence and nuclear energy related contracts – a move clearly subservient to expediency rather than rationale adherence to the cause of global nuclear non-proliferation. Some circles are also of the considered view that the US deliberately left loopholes in the civil nuclear agreement with India as it did not require India to limit its nuclear weapons or forsake nuclear testing. This certainly has increased the likelihood of India diverting its indigenous fissile material stocks to its weapons programme after obtaining adequate supplies from several countries on the basis of the NSG waiver.

There is a very strong view on the global level that the objective of the NPT and NSG would be better served by adopting a criteria-based approach to the expansion of the NSG – since any discriminatory strategy would not only undermine those objectives but also lead to innumerable operational and functional drawbacks that would become difficult to reconcile. Criteria-based expansion of the group ensuring entry of both India and Pakistan in the NSG would vastly enhance the acceptance of these two countries as nuclear weapons state giving them a say in how countries should conduct trade in nuclear-related exports.

Giving membership to both India and Pakistan would mean integration of two potential exporters under the NSG regime, leading to strengthening of the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and the objectives pursued by NSG. Admittance of Pakistan to NSG would also help erase the impression of the NSG being an illegitimate cartel of industrialised countries, as perceived by many non-nuclear states.

Pakistan has been pleading its case for membership of the NSG at different international forums. Though Pakistan is not a signatory to the NPT, it fulfils the criteria laid down by the NSG for admitting a country as its member. The criteria stipulate that the aspiring country should have the ability to supply nuclear items covered in the NSG guidelines; a proven record of adherence to those guidelines; a legal domestic export control system; compliance with obligations under the NPT and other treaties; support for international efforts towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles.

As stated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Nuclear Summit in Hague in 2014, Pakistan has been running a safe and secure civil nuclear programme for the last 40 years. It has the expertise, manpower and infrastructure to produce civil nuclear energy; it has pursued a policy of restraint as well as credible minimum deterrence and its nuclear security is supported by five pillars – a strong command and control system, an integrated intelligence system, rigorous regulatory regime and active international cooperation. The security regime covers physical protection of nuclear material, control and accounting, border controls and stringent radiological emergencies.

Pakistan also has been regularly submitting reports to the UN Security Council 1540 committee on the measures that the country has put in place to exercise control over transfer of sensitive materials and technologies.

If Pakistan is treated at par with India on the NSG it would strengthen the cause of non-proliferation. The expansion in the NSG needs to be considered on a judicious and criteria-based approach divorced from the narrow strategic interests of a few countries. The formal recognition of Pakistan as a nuclear state and endorsement of its credentials as a responsible nuclear country would benefit both Pakistan and the NSG. Pakistan would be in a better position to contribute to refining regulatory guidelines and safeguarding its interests. It would also allow Pakistan to export nuclear materials and technologies to other countries under the gaze of the global community in a legitimate manner.

In view of its burgeoning energy needs and its strong support for nuclear non-proliferation and regulatory regimes, Pakistan not only deserves membership of the NSG but also agreements for transfer of civilian nuclear technology like it has been done in the case of India.

The writer is a freelance contributor.