India's NSG membership bid is not over

Members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), at the recently held showdown plenary session in Seoul, remained deadlocked on admission of countries that have not signed Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but agreed to continue deliberations on the matter.

The absence of consensus in Seoul came as a big disappointment for India, which had invested a lot in terms of political and diplomatic capital for induction into the international nuclear trade regulating cartel, as it would have to wait further for the realization of its dream.

Indian application was opposed by 13 countries, which included China, Turkey, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, Kazakhstan, and Russia for different reasons. Some insisted on the NPT condition, others called for uniform approach for all aspirants, while another group was concerned about the impact of India’s entry into NSG on the strategic stability of South Asia, diplomats say.

A fresh attempt by India's powerful backers is in the offing

Contrastingly, Pakistan, which too could not gain entry into the elite nuclear club, is seeing it as an achievement of its diplomacy for having successfully stopped the world powers from granting yet another exception to their favourite – India – and making them acknowledge, at least for now, that a uniform criteria needed to be employed.

India and Pakistan, which are non-NPT states, had submitted their credentials for consideration for membership of NSG for which the applicant either has to be a NPT signatory or part of a nuclear-free zone. Israel, the third non-NPT state with nuclear potential, has been keeping itself on the margins of this race for now.

The ruling from NSG, which said that after deliberating on “Technical, Legal and Political Aspects of the Participation of non-NPT States in the NSG”, it had decided to continue its discussion, meant that the issue was far from over and a fresh attempt by the powerful backers of the Indian bid led by US and Japan was in the offing.

The reports about appointment of Argentine Ambassador Rafael Grossi as the “Facilitator of the NSG Chairperson” for consultations with the member states are being portrayed by India as some kind of progress in its case. Amb Grossi is known for his pro-India inclinations.

In a media interview after his appointment as the facilitator, Amb Grossi said that he had been asked by the new chair of NSG to “reach out and see what is possible in the coming months… At the plenary, many things were said, and I have to go back to each government about their stand, what they discussed and what they will agree to.”

But there are disagreements over how the matter would proceed after Seoul.

China, whom India is blaming for singlehandedly blocking its candidature, has denied that there was any understanding on the future direction of the consultations.


“With regard to issues concerning how to deal with the entry of non-NPT countries, a statement was issued by the NSG Plenary Meeting… We know not any other follow-up steps apart from that,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Pakistan’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz gave a similar impression at a media briefing this week. “There was a suggestion to set up a group on (admission) criteria, but even that could not happen,” he said.

That uncertainty about the manner in which NSG members would hold discussions on non-NPT states aside, there are number of hurdles, which both India and Pakistan would have to cross before being considered for membership.

For one, the communiqué at Seoul underscored that “complete and effective implementation of the NPT” would remain “the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime”. That means the NPT condition for membership would continue to be a major issue unless a grand bargain occurs.
India is blaming China for single-handedly blocking its candidature

A large group of countries is already going all out for developing the consensus in favour of India and the diplomatic arm twisting is expected to intensify in the near future for achieving that objective.

But ground realities suggest that doing so would not be all that easy. Notwithstanding the fact that 13 countries opposed Indian application, China was the lead opponent and the rest coalesced around it in one way or the other. And China did not only oppose India’s US backed bid only for its love for Pakistan, but for several other geo-strategic reasons including disputes in China–US relations over the South China Sea, missile defence for South Korea, and American plans for propping up India as a counterweight to China. China would, therefore, not give up on this unless it gets a reasonable quid pro quo.

India has, meanwhile, begun reaching out to China after initially reacting curtly to the Chinese stance on its membership application.

Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesman Vikas Swarup told repoters: “We will keep impressing upon China that mutual accommodation of interests, concerns and priorities is necessary to move forward bilateral ties.”

Separately, for the NSG membership, India would have to show progress on the unfulfilled pledges it made while getting the 2008 waiver from NSG particularly the separation of civilian and military reactors. It is also yet to move towards Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.


Pakistan, meanwhile, would have to lift its veto on negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty if it wants to remain relevant in the race rather than just being a blocker of the Indian bid.

Therefore, no matter how the Indians try to present the imminence of their NSG membership despite the Seoul setback, the road ahead would not be too smooth and would involve a lot of give and take.

Global Times, a Chinese publication, rightly summed up in its editorial that “The US is not the whole world. Its endorsement does not mean India has won the backing of the world. This basic fact, however, has been ignored by India…The international adulation of India makes the country a bit smug in international affairs.”

Nevertheless, it is important that Pakistan is not lowering its guard, and as Sartaj Aziz said, internal consultations would soon begin on “Post-Seoul strategy”.

The writer is a freelance journalist

based in Islamabad


Twitter: @bokhari_mr