The issue of India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has been the focus of significant public and media attention over the past few weeks. It appears to have emerged as the single most critical foreign policy priority for the Modi government.
What is Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multilateral export control regime and a group of nuclear supplier countries that seek to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.
Formed Against Indian Nuclear Test
The NSG was founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974 and first met in November 1975. The test demonstrated that certain non-weapons specific nuclear technology could be readily turned to weapons development. Nations already signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) saw the need to further limit the export of nuclear equipment, materials or technology. Another benefit was that non-NPT and non-Zangger Committee nations, then specifically France, could be brought in.
Why NSG Important For India
The government is according so much importance to the issue that Prime Minister Modi hurriedly decided at the last minute to include visits to Switzerland and Mexico during his tour to the USA and some other countries to raise this issue and obtain categorical support for India’s membership at the forthcoming NSG plenary at Seoul on 23-24 June 2016.
It is a reflection on Modi that he was able to get unequivocal support from Mexico and Switzerland although they had initially opposed the grant of a unique waiver to India by the NSG in 2008. They had also expressed concerns about India’s NSG membership when the issue came up in informal discussions in recent years.
10 Key Points
- The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) states on its website that it is “a group of nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of two sets of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports.” The guidelines include a principle that states that transfer of nuclear technology will be authorised only on the condition that such a deal will not lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. That’s why all the member states of the NSG are signatories of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NSG guidelines also complement several other international treaties related to nuclear non-proliferation.
- India is not a member of the NPT. It is a point that China has consistently raised while trying to block India’s membership to the NSG. However, China is supporting Pakistan’s membership. Pakistan too has not signed the NPT.
- NSG was set up in response to India’s own clandestine nuclear test in 1974, which made New Delhi something of a pariah in the West. Joining the club requires the unanimous approval of all 48 members.
- Analysts say joining the NSG is chiefly a matter of pride and desire to be taken seriously by some of the world’s most powerful nations. Since prompting international technology sanctions and limits on exports by conducting nuclear tests in 1998, India has been eager to gain legitimacy as a nuclear power.
- Joining the NSG will give India better access to low-cost, clean nuclear energy — important for its economic growth. Nuclear power is one way India, the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, could cut its emissions and reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
- NSG membership would put India on a firmer footing to propose the idea of plutonium trade for its thorium programme that has been waiting in the wings. An early adoption of thorium technology would give India enormous energy independence and security.
- PM Modi is so keen on the NSG membership that he set up a meet with China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent on Thursday. It is the same day when the NSG plenary session in Seoul begins, a meeting in which India’s membership application is expected to come up. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar is in Seoul to closely monitor the NSG meeting.
- The US has openly supported India’s membership to the NSG and even urged other members to do so. “We believe, and this has been US policy for some time, that India is ready for membership and the United States calls on participating governments to support India’s application at the plenary session of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG),” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. Among others who have publicly backed India’s bid for NSG are Mexico, France, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, UK and Canada.
- Other than China, countries that are opposing India’s inclusion in the NSG are Turkey, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand.
- While considering India’s membership application, the NSG will also have to consider the fact that accepting this application can pose problems on the processing of applications from Pakistan and Israel, both of whom have not signed the NPT.