While most members of the NSG are generally willing to accommodate the view of the U.S. on India’s entry into the elite club, “concern” within this group stems from the fact that India and the U.S. decided this year to “pressurise” this issue, and that has “interfered with the process that was set up several years ago to reach a consensus decision on India's membership,” a senior U.S. analyst said.
“The situation regarding the U.S. hasn't changed, as Washington has strongly advocated Indian membership since 2010,” Mark Hibbs, Senior Associate at the Nuclear Policy Programme of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said to The Hindu .
Mr. Hibbs has written a policy paper on membership for states that are not part of the NPT, after being asked to do so by NSG members.
However, he noted, when the pressure intensified to get India into the group within a matter of weeks, India had not agreed to any binding steps to align itself with non-proliferation norms that other states strongly believed in and have committed to, possibly including specific measures in export control, while at the same time “India is moving forward with its nuclear weapons program in competition with Pakistan.”
His comments come even as a team of Indian negotiators engages with the Group’s constituents meeting in Seoul, South Korea, to possibly discuss, among other issues, membership applications of non-Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) members such as India.
Meanwhile NSG members, many of whom are smaller economic powers than India and the U.S., for example, Belarus, Iceland, and Luxembourg are said to be worried that such concerns would be brushed aside by various heads of state focussed on their bilateral relationships with India and the U.S. in the interest of geostrategic aims, commerce, and domestic political pressure.
While there is this apparent sense of insecurity amongst NSG members, linked to the strong, perhaps unexpected ongoing campaign by New Delhi and Washington, Mr. Hibbs does feel that it would be a boost to the NSG's credibility and coherence if the group made a decision about India that “reflects a policy about what the NPT means for membership more generally and about what kinds of things non-NPT states could do to demonstrate a stronger commitment to non-proliferation.”
To this end, a more considered approach may be for the NSG to make decisions in Seoul that continue the internal structured dialogue about possible membership of India and other non-NPT parties, and to impose more focus and discipline on that discussion.
According to Mr. Hibbs, playing the game this way could well lead to decision-making based on the interests of multilateral nuclear export controls and not the geopolitical, trade, and domestic political interests of individual NSG member-states.
Since its inception in 1975 the NSG has aimed to inhibit its members from assisting India's nuclear weapons programme.
If the very nation whose nuclear trade was the core target of the Group were to be admitted into the NSG, then existing members would have to be prepared to make a range of adjustments and revisions, including in its rules, guidelines, and assumptions, including for example on the link between the NPT and NSG membership.
The irony, given the “suddenly accelerated the drive toward Indian membership,” is that unless this adjustment process is similarly pushed into fourth gear and completed, it may never move forward in the future, not least because “once India is inside the tent making changes will be more difficult in part because India will have a veto.”