New Delhi: As the clock ticks towards the plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Seoul, India remains opposed to any “criteria-based” approach for new entrants, concerned that this is a delaying tactic by China.
With discussions going on in various capitals, New Delhi is still worried about Beijing’s position being the only roadblock, though there are three other countries which have concerns about Indian membership of the nuclear exporters club.
Writing about the June 9 NSG meeting in Vienna and the reservations of some countries to India’s application to become a ‘participating government’, Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has argued that with China adamant, the “only way for India to be admitted to the NSG is for members to agree on a criteria-based process that would preserve Pakistan’s prospects for future admission.”
However, official sources here made it clear that India continues to be strongly opposed to the idea of ‘criteria-based’ membership which Beijing has been advocating by calling for the same treatment of all non-NPT countries.
In his June 3 letter to NSG participating governments, US secretary of state John Kerry wrote, “With respect to other possible new members of the NSG, Indian officials have stated that India would take a merit-based approach to such applications and would not be influenced by extraneous regional issues”.
Sources made it clear that a “merit-based” approach was not the same as drawing up “criteria” for membership. If the NSG went the ‘criteria’ way, then it would mean that India would have to wait for two-three years as the 48 member countries of the group reach consensus on what those terms should be. Naturally, India will not be inside the room when the NSG draws up its criteria, which would again allow China to bat for Pakistan and delay New Delhi’s entry, officials asserted.
“Merit”, on the other hand, would entail looking at the past record of a country applying and considering the “big picture” of their role in nuclear trade and non-proliferation, the sources said.
Indian officials have repeatedly pointed out that New Delhi has already brought its export controls in line with NSG guidelines. India has also completed the separation of its civil and military nuclear program, and signed an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency – steps no other non-NPT member has even begun to take.
Pakistan will not be meet these standards soon, and therefore, the timeline for its eventual membership of the NSG would be different, Indian officials say.
This is, obviously, not an outcome that Pakistan – and China – would want from the Seoul meeting. In a statement issued by the Pakistan foreign ministry on Wednesday, Sartaj Aziz, the foreign policy adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, thanked Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “for [the] principled position adopted by Turkey at the Vienna meeting that the membership applications of both India and Pakistan be considered together”.
In its campaign for NSG membership, India has deliberately tried to keep away from the rhetoric of subcontinental rivalry. Kerry’s phrase that Indian officials will “not be influenced by extraneous regional issues” is part of that positioning exercise. The Indian argument is that NSG membership is required to ensure an environment of “predictability”, which will help to meet targets of expanding nuclear power production and ultimately, make the Paris climate change pact a reality. If India does become a member, Kerry’s letter suggests New Delhi will not be an obstacle to consideration of Pakistan’s membership application. “The question is whether an assurance that India would refrain from blocking Pakistan’s subsequent bid will work,” Rakesh Sood, a former adviser to the Indian prime minister on nuclear affairs, asked in an op-ed article in The Hindu on Tuesday.
Currently, China along with Turkey, Austria, South Africa and New Zealand are the only major hold-outs, after Mexico and Switzerland indicated their support for India earlier this month.
On Sunday, Beijing reiterated its view that accession by “non-NPT countries” should be done through “full discussions before forging consensus and making decisions based on agreement”. “The NPT provides a political and legal foundation for the international non-proliferation regime as a whole. China’s position applies to all non-NPT countries and targets no one in particular,” said the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, who added that the group “remains divided”.