China’s Objections to India’s NSG Participation is Harmful to Global Non-proliferation Efforts

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India’s proposed participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has been conditioned to two issues by China. The first concerns India’s refusal to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China has argued that India’s reticence on the NPT bars its from being a member NSG. The second issue raked by China is that India’s entry into the NSG has been linked to Pakistan. The first issue can be substantially debated and logically argued that to hold India’s entry into the NSG hostage to the NPT membership is not in the interest of the global non-proliferation efforts. The second issue is completely irrelevant as India’s participation to the export control group must not be associated with any other country.

This commentary examines the credibility of China’s proposed arguments to obstruct India’s entry into the NSG. It underscores India’s entry into the export control group must be unanimously supported by the existing NSG members as the group cannot function in isolation based on selective cooperation. Obstructing assistance from states with advanced nuclear weapons technology like India is harmful to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It also emphasises that India is interested in joining the NSG but its desire must not be linked to any matter like Pakistan, which is a non-issue.

The NSG was established in 1974 by seven nuclear supplier governments (Canada, West Germany, France, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States) following India’s conduct of the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion. The seven nuclear powers concluded the NPT alone is inadequate to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology.

NSG was founded to stop illegal transfer of nuclear material, equipment or technology that encourages proliferation of nuclear weapons. The 48-member group pursues its objectives through adherence to the established Guidelines of the export control group adopted through consensus and after appropriate exchange of information related to proliferation concerns. The NSG Procedural Arrangement specifies a set of factors that a new participating government must fulfill for entry.

In 2008, India was granted the NSG waiver to meet it growing energy requirements which allowed it to enter into nuclear trade with nuclear supplier countries. The deliberations held at the plenary meetings have ended with divided opinions on India’s participation into the Group. The primary resistance is from China arguing that India is not a signatory to the NPT – a necessary factor for entry into the export control group. The Chinese position on India’s NSG participation requires reconsideration.

Does India merit NSG Participation?

India successfully achieved the NSG waiver after willingly undertaking highly effective non-proliferation commitments (separating its civilian and military nuclear facilities in a phased manner; placing civil nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards; signing and adhering to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol) under the India-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement. Added to this, India has set high standards for itself to contribute towards international efforts for halting spread of nuclear weapons of technology. These measures include ratification of the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; adherence to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) of 2005; harmonising its Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) list with that of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG); enacting the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their Delivery Systems Act, 2005 that provides “overarching and integrated legislation prohibiting unlawful activities in relation to WMD and their delivery systems” and; upheld obligations under the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1540 to prevent proliferation of all WMD.

India has also set up a Counter Nuclear Smuggling Team to deal with the threat of individuals or group of individuals acquiring nuclear or radioactive material for malicious purposes. India is presently in the process of setting up a specialized School on Nuclear Security under the aegis of the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) to impart training in areas of physical protection of its nuclear materials and technology.

China’s objections

Given so, it is unfair that China continues to display reticence to India’s participation in the NSG. While it can be asserted that barring India’s entry into the NSG will not in any way undermine its efforts towards non-proliferation, but it can certainly affect NSG’s credibility in the future. Nuclear technology is widespread globally and it would be a prudent decision to include non-NPT states with advanced nuclear technology within the folds of the NSG as an effective hedge against nuclear proliferation. India’s rich experience in nuclear technology and future plans of becoming a “competitive” nuclear supplier makes its inclusion in the NSG an imperative necessity.

Hence, the naysayers including China must move beyond the discourse of India’s refusal to sign the NPT as a ground to prevent its entry into the NSG. Noteworthy, NSG was created because it was felt that NPT by itself would be a deficient effort to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. This is evident from the examples of NPT states like Iraq, Iran and North Korea’s clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons capability despite being NPT members. Earlier, in October 1974, the French company SGN and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) signed a contract for the construction of the 100 MT facility capable of separating between 100kg and 200kg of plutonium annually. As France had not signed the NPT, it was under no obligation to restrain from entering into nuclear trade with Pakistan. However, the inclusion of France within the NSG in 1974 irrespective of its non-NPT status led to the subsequent termination of the controversial nuclear agreement in 1978.

The NSG has been less than successful in preventing exports of restricted nuclear technology in present times. The infamous AQ Khan nuclear black-market and the on-going China-Pakistan nuclear trade in nuclear reactor cooperation are in total violation of the established NGS Guidelines. It is important that the NSG reviews its mandate and adopts measures that can contribute in stopping nuclear proliferation. One such measure would be to decouple NPT and NSG participation and welcome states with advanced nuclear technology like India within its fold.

As argued by the United States in a communication titled “Food for Thought” Paper on Indian NSG Membership, it has been emphasized that the “factors “should be considered by Participating Governments and are not NPT mandatory criteria that must be met by any proposed candidate for NSG.” The NSG must display like-mindedness on the core important issue i.e. be “supportive of international efforts towards the non-proliferation of WMD and their delivery vehicles and have in force a legally-based domestic export control system which gives effect to the commitment to act in accordance with the Guidelines.”

Pakistan factor

China has linked India’s participation to the NSG with Pakistan’s proposed entry into the export control group. China’s efforts can be interpreted as merely a tactical instrument to obstruct India’s entry into the NSG. India’s impeccable nuclear non-proliferation record cannot be equated with that of Pakistan. In the case of India, its non-proliferation record involves extending support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) objectives by which a moratorium was declared post 1998 tests – a stand that has been maintained till date. Unlike India, Pakistan does not merit an impeccable nuclear non-proliferation record. Its continuing ambiguity on the AQ Khan, controversial nuclear cooperation with China on reactor technology and its taciturn approach on the FMCT are major concerns that impede global non-proliferation efforts.

China must rise above petty politics and support India’s entry into the NSG in the larger global interests.