‘India’s aspirations for full NSG membership likely to hit NPT roadblock’

Han Hua, director for Arms Control and Disarmament at Peking University.  

The strong structural linkage between the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is likely to undermine India’s effort to become a formal member of the 48-member club, says a top Chinese academic.

In an interview with The Hindu, Han Hua, director for Arms Control and Disarmament at Peking University, pointed out that there are many reasons why India would find it difficult to join the NPT— the cornerstone of admission to the NSG.

“India conducted nuclear weapon tests in 1998 and claimed it is a nuclear weapons state, but its entry to the NPT as a nuclear weapon power would be problematic, given the treaty’s exclusion of new weapon states after 1967,” says Professor Han.

She pointed out that if India, as an exception, is admitted to the NSG as a nuclear weapon state — in the same category as the permanent members of the UN Security Council — that would trigger an outcry among other nuclear-capable States, including Pakistan, for an equivalent status.

“But I think Pakistan’s application for NSG membership would meet resistance from some member states. In that case the global powers may prefer to recognise India as a de facto nuclear power and deal with it, without formalising its membership to the NSG as a nuclear weapon State”.

However, without NPT membership — either in the weapon or non-weapon category, which in any case India would reject — New Delhi would be unable to formally join the NSG. “So in India’s specific case, the NPT route that has been charted out for NSG membership leads to a dead end, undermining New Delhi’s aspiration for joining the 48-member club. But it would still be able to essentially avail all the benefits without formal membership because of the special waiver provided to India by NSG in 2008,” observed Dr. Han.

‘Resistance from emerging countries’

Professor Han pointed out that making an exception for India to join the NSG as a nuclear weapon State was also likely to trigger resistance from some emerging countries such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, as well as Kazakhstan. These nations, which had given up nuclear weapons capability or atomic weapons at one stage, were bound to “feel cheated” if India was “rewarded” because, unlike them, it persisted in pursuing atomic weapons.

Asked as to why, unlike 2008, when the NSG gave India a special “waiver,” Washington’s persuasion for New Delhi’s full membership of the club did not work in Seoul, Prof. Han said: “Unlike the Bush administration which saw the NSG waiver and the civil nuclear deal with India as a geopolitical project for turning New Delhi into a strategic partner , President Barack Obama is more of a ‘multilaterist” with greater ideological commitment to non-proliferation regimes, so that intensity to support India is not there.”

She added that Russia’s position for India’s NSG membership is also ambiguous.

In response to questions following the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tashkent last week, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did say that Moscow was “willing to support” India’s NSG bid considering New Delhi’s “spotless reputation” on non- proliferation. But he also added that, “There are a number of countries in the NSG that believe that this issue requires further consideration.”

When asked to elaborate on whether China was among them, he said: “Not only China. There are several States, but their goal is not exactly to block India’s accession to this group. They are willing to consider it, but they want certain procedures to be defined for countries that are not party to the NPT Treaty.”

‘More of a foreign policy victory’

Professor Han rubbished claims that NSG membership would help India acquire “clean energy” and bolster its efforts to achieve energy security. “On account of the NSG waiver that it got in 2008, India, can access everything — nuclear reactors, raw material or any other requisite civilian nuclear technology. So the clean energy argument is not convincing.” She added that “it is more likely that the present Indian government wants to demonstrate NSG membership as a major foreign policy victory. This can then yield domestic political support, following a surge in popular perceptions of enhanced national pride and prestige”.

Asked about the possibility of civil nuclear energy tie ups in the future between China and India, Professor Han said that the two countries could become market leaders in “fast-breeder” technology, by pooling in their expertise in this field.

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2022 1:43:20 PM |

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