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Knocking on NSG’S Door

Considering India’s ambition to expand its civil nuclear programme, the country needs membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). This will facilitate greater access to nuclear fuel, material and technology.

India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) pledge of 40% of its cumulative installed capacity in power coming from non-fossil sources by 2030 will be fulfilled only if the country is able to attract heavy investment in nuclear power plants. To attract such investments, India needs to create a predictable environment for which the membership of NSG plays a very important role.

So, let us find out where we stand on NSG membership as of now and what lies ahead.

After persistent political and diplomatic efforts for over a decade, on May 12, 2016 India submitted its application for membership to this 48-nation club.  While most members supported India’s bid for membership at the annual plenary in Seoul, China opposed India’s inclusion, citing the fact that the country is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on nuclear weapons.  China’s opposition is considered political, aimed at containing India’s rise as an Asian power in addition to offering support to Pakistan, which is also an applicant for NSG membership.

That brings us to the question: What is the NSG and how can it help India?

WHAT IS NSG?

It is a group of “nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports”.

HOW CAN NSG MEMBERSHIP HELP INDIA?

Membership to the NSG will help India expand its nuclear power generation capacity. Besides, the country will be in a better position to export nuclear supplies to other countries. This will also strengthen India’s nuclear regime and attract investments to set up nuclear power plants in the country.

Although the 2008 NSG waiver to India enables New Delhi to engage in civil nuclear trade, membership of the nuclear club will be a major breakthrough in cementing its position as a serious player in the field.

WHY CHINA IS IMPORTANT?

An NSG membership is possible only through consensus among existing members. China, as a member, is opposing India’s entry on grounds that India has not signed the NPT and cannot be treated as an exceptional case.  Beijing wants the entry criteria to be norm-based. Accordingly, the norms that will allow India in should also let in other states, such as Pakistan. China’s opposition is the main obstacle to India’s inclusion in the group.

INDIA'S STRENGTHS

Despite not being a signatory to the NPT or a member of the NSG, India’s record in observing the provisions of the NPT and the NSG guidelines is impeccable. Some major instances are listed below:

  1. India has never transferred its nuclear technology to another country
  2. India has put its civilian reactors under IAEA safeguards. With this, the production capacity of weapons-grade material has been limited
  3. There is strong export control on the domestic front
  4. India is undertaking the separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities in a phased manner as per the Indo-US nuclear deal
  5. India has persisted in observing its unilateral moratorium on nuclear-testing

India’s nuclear doctrine is unique. It is non-proliferative, non-offensive, and only for deterrence purposes. Last year, India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which is one of the four multilateral export control regimes. MTCR membership is further affirmation of India’s non-proliferation credentials.

The objective of the MTCR is to restrict the proliferation of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and related technology capable of carrying payload above 500 kg for more than 300 km. China is not a member of the MTCR, which consists of 35 countries.

THE ROAD AHEAD

China continues to reiterate its opposition to India’s inclusion in the NSG. However, India is persistent in its efforts and undeterred vis-a-vis its diplomatic measures to persuade Beijing. Since China seeks MTCR membership, India could use it as a bargaining counter.

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