Four years after the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) opened the doors for global nuclear trade for New Delhi, India is steadily inching closer to its pursuit of joining the world’s top four atomic control regimes with a large number of countries in favour of getting it within the non-proliferation tent.
Marking a spectacular turnaround in global attitudes, India, which was once seen as a pariah after it went nuclear in 1998, garnered the NSG approval for the India-US civil nuclear deal and global nuclear cooperation on Sept 6, 2008.
Over the last four years, India has been lobbying with key NSG players for membership of the four key multilateral nuclear export regimes – the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
The result has been largely satisfying, say well-placed sources close to the strategic-nuclear establishment.
“We have made steady progress. The preparatory phase is well under way,” the sources said.
India feels that joining the NSG is key to the entire game as it will set the stage for it to join the other three regimes, which have different compositions and membership criteria.
“There is a general consensus that India will join the four regimes in a coordinated manner. The key to the entire game is the NSG. In our assessment, NSG is the most important,” the sources said.
On this front, there is some good news to cheer. Leading NSG members, including the US, Russia, France and Britain, have already expressed support for India joining the top multilateral regimes. “A large number of countries are in favour of India joining these regimes,” say the sources.
Indian officials have been careful not to set any time-frame for New Delhi’s entry into the four regimes but stress that the discussions are evolving in a positive manner. They cite the growing consensus in the NSG on getting India inside the tent rather than keeping it out.
India, said the sources, is being increasingly seen as a like-minded country that serves the interests and goals of the non-proliferation regimes. “India’s non-proliferation record is exemplary. It’s as much in India’s interests as it is in the interests of the world,” the sources said.
The US, the prime mover behind India’s global nuclear rapprochement, is also leading the charge this time round.
In a breakthrough of sorts, the US has agreed to disassociate India’s membership of the NSG from its accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India has made it clear it will never join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state as it regards the NPT as a discriminatory regime that divides the world into the nuclear haves and have-nots. In this context, the US circulated a “non-paper” on India’s membership at the NSG plenary meeting held in Seattle on June 22.
The most controversial part of the paper is that NPT membership is not being seen as a “condition” for being in the NSG, carrying forward its recommendation for India’s membership that the US had circulated at the last plenary at Noordwijk in the Netherlands last year.
What has brightened India’s chances is that the US is helming the NSG this year.
However, as the NSG works by consensus, China may prove to be a hurdle. China had deftly hedged on the India-US civil nuclear deal and even encouraged fence-sitters in the NSG not to support the deal in days prior to the Sept 6, 2008, approval. But India is hoping that if the rest of the NSG, or at least a majority of the NSG, supports India’s bid to join these regimes, Beijing will not like to be seen as a spoiler.
To buttress its credentials, India is ready to negotiate a multilateral non-discriminatory, universally verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), but Pakistan’s opposition to the FMCT has stalled this crucial pact that seeks to curb the production of weapons-grade fissile material. India is also haromnising its national laws and nuclear safety standards with the international obligations that will flow from joining the top four regimes.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.