The recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States, in which he had a bilateral with President Obama and also addressed both Houses of the United States Congress has received worldwide accolade. The burgeoning defence relationship between the two countries reflects the new geopolitical reality, wherein India is considered as a major player contributing to global security. However, despite the American support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and the whirlwind diplomatic offensive undertaken by the Prime Minister himself, there was no consensus at the meeting held in Seoul to accept India’s candidacy. The NSG is a cartel of nuclear equipment and material suppliers that sets its own rules and amends them through consensus among its 48 members.
China remained a stumbling block, cleverly pushing for Pakistan’s inclusion in a bid to keep India out. Other than the Chinese and perhaps Turkey, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Pakistan’s cause, but by advocating for the inclusion of Pakistan, Beijing effectively scuttled India’s chances as the normative stakes for expanding the NSG’s membership were magnified. Beijing’s contention that India is not eligible to become a member of the NSG as it is not a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), however lacks merit as adherence to the treaty is merely a guiding principle for consideration and not a necessary prerequisite for membership.
India advocated a merit based approach, to seek inclusion but this was countered by China which sought a criteria based approach rather than granting country specific waivers, primarily to keep India out. China also stated that India’s membership will “jeopardise” China’s national interests and touch a ”raw nerve” in Pakistan. This fits in well with the larger Chinese designs of hyphenating India and Pakistan and using the latter to keep India tied down to South Asia. This policy has limited returns but suits China admirably. Unlike the CTBT and the NPT, the NSG is not a treaty and is hence more adaptable. However, it does require consensus of all its members for inclusion of a new member into this exclusive club.
For India, non-inclusion has no impact on its nuclear programme as the 2008 Civil Nuclear deal between India and the US provides for a NSG waiver, enabling India to engage in civil nuclear trade with other countries. However, membership does provide greater certainty and a legal foundation for India’s nuclear regime and thus greater confidence for those countries investing billions of dollars to set up ambitious nuclear power projects in India. Moreover, as India’s international political, economic, military and strategic profile and clout increases, India would like to move into the category of international rule-creating rather than rule-adhering nations. For this, it is essential that India gets due recognition and a place on the NSG high table. India has however become a member of another exclusive club, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The Indian Foreign Secretary Mr. S Jaishankar signed the instrument of accession on 27 June 2016. India’s joining the exclusive MTCR club is a very welcome development and would be beneficial in furthering international non-proliferation objectives. China as of now is not a member of the MTCR, though it is seeking membership of the same.
While India’s bid for NSG membership remained a bridge too far, the prospects should be better next time around. International politics remains a game where national interests trump all others. To that extent, India must seek to neutralise those players that are opposed to it. But it is a sign of forward movement that India has apparently shed its hesitancies of the past and is prepared to take up its rightful place in the world. There will be hiccups on the way, but next time round, the bridge would most certainly be crossed.