External Affairs

In Boost to India, Mexico Says NSG Membership Must Not Be Linked to NPT

New Delhi: In a boost to India’s quest for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Mexico has clarified that instead of focusing on the “universality of NPT” as a criterion – as some NSG states insisted at the recent Seoul plenary – the NSG should filter each applicant on whether they meet the cartel’s “objective” of preventing diversion of nuclear technology and material for military purposes.

Ambassador Joel Hernández García. Credit: Mexican foreign ministry

Ambassador Joel Hernández García. Credit: Mexican foreign ministry

In written answers to questions from The Wire, the director general of the United Nations Organisation in secretariat of the Mexican foreign ministry, Joel Hernández García said that the NSG was a “non-proliferation regime”, but “not a disarmament forum.”

“The NSG should rather look into the adherence of applicants to its guidelines which establish [a] member’s obligations on exports controls. We must bear in mind that NSG is a group of suppliers-exporters,” he said.

This is the first time that Mexico has clearly stated its position on India’s application for membership, vis-à-vis the issue of New Delhi not being a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

As matters stand, NPT membership has become one of the criteria for NSG membership. India, Pakistan, Israel North Korea are the only four nuclear capable countries to remain outside the treaty, which bans all other than the US, Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom from possessing nuclear weapons.

During his five-nation trip in June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi included a quick hop to Mexico City where Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto offered “positive and constructive support” for India’s NSG ambitions.

The plenary meeting of the 48-member group in Seoul failed to come to a consensus on how to bring India into the fold, even after a special session was held till midnight of June 23. In the end, acting on a suggestion by Mexico, the NSG “decided to continue its discussion”, with Argentina’s Rafael Grossi mandated to hold talks on this topic with members.

While there were a number of countries who raised concern about ‘process’, India singled out “one country” – read China – for putting up repeated “procedural hurdles”. The Chinese head of delegation Wang Qun told the media on June 24 that since “NSG consensus is in favour of the Non Proliferation Treaty, [we] hope India will join NPT first”.

In contrast, the senior Mexican diplomat said that “universality” of NPT, i.e. getting every country to sign up to the treaty, is not the focus of the NSG. He also asserted that Mexico will not look for additional assurances or commitments from India and that each NSG applicant “should be examined on its own merits”.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

The Wire: How would you describe the role played by Mexico in the NSG plenary in Seoul? Although we learn Mexico is the country which proposed an extraordinary plenary session of the NSG for later this year to consider India’s membership, there have also been reports that Mexico is one of those countries that says the NSG needs to formulate membership criteria for non-NPT countries and that India must wait till that happens.

Joel Hernández García: Mexico’s role has been supportive to the aspiration of India to join the NSG as it was highlighted by President Enrique Peña Nieto during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 8th 2016.

The 26th plenary meeting had closed door and confidential discussions on the issue of technical, legal and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states in the NSG, and decided to continue its discussion. Mexico will continue to support the admission of India. We are also ready to contribute with the chairman’s inter-sessional consultations to arrive to a successful result.

The Wire: In 2008, the NSG agreed to drop the requirement of NPT membership as a condition for nuclear exports to India. In return, India made several non-proliferation commitments. Do you think India that India has fulfilled the commitments it made at the time of the 2008 waiver?

JHG: Mexico has expressed its recognition to the commitments made by India to the non-proliferation agenda, which is reflected in the support to India to join the NSG.

The Wire: Has there been any material change in Mexico’s stance on India’s NSG participation in the past few months? Did the issue come up in discussions India and Mexico had when Prime Minister Modi visited Mexico City in June 2016? What assurances, if any, did President Pena Nieto convey?

JHG: Among the relevant aspects discussed during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Mexico was India’s interest in becoming NSG member. It was also the opportunity to express in words of President Peña Nieto, the positive and constructive support for India’s aspiration to join the NSG in light of its commitments in favour of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agendas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City in June. Credit: MEA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mexican President Enrique Pena-Nieto in Mexico City in June. Credit: MEA

The Wire: Since India will not sign the NPT, is there any way to formulate NPT-equivalent conditions, which could be described as ‘criteria’ for membership?

JHG: This is a discussion that has to be carried out by the NSG and agreed among its members, based on the idea of building of a bloc consensus among its members.

The Wire: Is it Mexico’s contention that a common set of criteria can be devised for NSG membership of non-NPT countries despite the great diversity of the latter? Israel does not acknowledge its military programme, Pakistan has proliferated in the past and not provided the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Dr. A.Q. Khan (who ran a clandestine nuclear network) Only India appears to have established credentials good enough for the NSG to have granted it a waiver from its export rules. Why insist on common criteria (for NSG membership) when the non-NPT states have little in common?

JHG: The NSG is a non-proliferation regime. It is not a disarmament forum. Questions relating to the universality of the NPT are addressed at other fora where Mexico actively participates. The NSG should look into the adherence of applicants to its guidelines which establish member’s obligations on exports controls.

The Wire: Isn’t it more logical to insist that non-NPT countries first secure a waiver from the NSG guidelines as a necessary criterion for NSG membership rather than looking to open membership to those countries against which there is an export embargo in place?

JHG: Mexico is of the view that each application to become a member of NSG should be examined on its own merits. At the end, the NSG will take into consideration all relevant factors for participation to take a decision on this matter.

However, we must bear in mind that NSG is a group of suppliers-exporters. Each member is committed to verify that its exports are not diverted to military purposes. Therefore, the meetings of the NSG should have the purpose to examine whether the applicants have the legislation and administrative arrangements in place to comply with the objective of the NSG.

The Wire: In Mexico’s view, what should be ‘criteria’ for NSG membership? Why can’t the commitments India made at the time of 2008 waiver be treated as suitable criteria for NSG membership? Is Mexico looking for India to make additional assurances or commitments? If so, what are those?

JHG: The factors to be considered for participation are clear and they were agreed by all NSG Participating Governments. Mexico will not look for additional assurances or commitments from India.

The Wire: How will the extraordinary plenary session help to bridge the gap between the various NSG PGs when the Seoul meet proved deadlocked?

JHG: If convened, it will contribute to the discussions on this matter and it could provide another opportunity for Participating Governments to take relevant decisions.

The Wire: What is Mexico’s attitude to the question of possible Indian ratification of the Additional Protocols to the Treaty of Tlatelolco on the Latin American Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, in line with Article 28(4) of the treaty? OPANAL apparently raised this matter with India as “a new power possessing nuclear weapons” after the 1974 Indian test.  Could this provide countries like Mexico additional comfort for possible Indian membership of the NSG?

JHG: Mexico has already granted its support to India to become a member of the NSG. As it was said before, the NSG is a non- proliferation body, it is not a disarmament forum. Mexico will continue working in favour of the universality of NPT and the entry into force at the CTBT at the appropriate fora.

  • Guesta

    Today, most nuclear experts are unanimous in their views that deviation from a criteria-based approach to a country-specific approach is more likely to undermine the credibility of the NSG. If expansion of the NSG is necessary, then it will have to be decided in accordance with fundamentally agreed principles.