External Affairs

New Draft Proposal on NSG Membership Unlikely to Please India

One of the riders in the draft is that membership for non-NPT signatory countries will be contingent on “commitment not to conduct a nuclear test”.

A member of Denmark's delegation (C) takes a picture with his phone while seated next to India's Prime Minister Narenda Modi (R) at the start of the second plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington April 1, 2016. Credit: Reuters

A member of Denmark’s delegation (C) takes a picture with his phone while seated next to India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi (R) at the start of the second plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington April 1, 2016. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: A new proposal drafted to bring those who are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into the Nuclear Suppliers Group is unlikely to find much resonance in New Delhi, due to a rider that membership will be contingent on “commitment not to conduct a nuclear test”.

Earlier this month, Argentine ambassador Rafael Mariano Grossi circulated a draft proposal which listed nine “general commitments” that countries who have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty would have to undertake to join the cartel. A copy of the draft proposal was first obtained by Bloomberg News, followed by the Washington-based think tank Arms Control Association (ACA).

Grossi, who is a former NSG chair, had been asked by the current chairman, South Korea’s Song Young-wan, to consult all members and outline a possible solution to the membersuip requests of countries like India and Pakistan. He made a presentation at the November 16 consultative group meeting in Vienna, where he was asked for some further clarifications.

As per the ACA, Grossi circulated a two-page document titled “revised version of a draft ‘Exchange of Notes’ for Non-NPT applicants” on December 6. The aim of the paper, based on “views, comments and suggestions received”, was to “provide a basis for the commitments and understandings to augment the applications of the Non-NPT applicants”.

The nine conditions do not include a proviso for signing the NPT, but India will certainly recoil at clauses six and seven in the draft proposal.

  • A commitment not to conduct any nuclear explosive test.
  • A clear description of [non-NPT applicant] intentions plans, and policies in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty upon becoming a participating government.

Though India has a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, it has always baulked at any suggestion that this is a commitment in exchange for something – be it nuclear cooperation with the US, the waiver from the NSG or, now, membership of the NSG.

In September 2008, on the eve of the NSG waiver, the furthest India was prepared to go was to issue a statement by Pranab Mukherjee, who was external affairs minister at the time, “to reiterate India’s stand on nonproliferation and disarmament. “We remain committed to a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing,” he had said, without referring to the proposed NSG waiver.

With Japan, India was willing to acknowledge, in a side agreement, that Tokyo reserved the right to suspend nuclear cooperation in the event of any departure by India from the political statement Pranab Mukherjee made – short hand for an Indian test.

While that formulation – which in itself represented a change in the Indian position vis-a-vis its agreements with the US and other countries, as well as the NSG – acknowledges that there will be costs India might have to bear if it tests, it does not amount to a commitment from India to never test nuclear weapons. Therefore, from India’s side, the draft NSG membership proposal seems to be a non-starter due to the inclusion of a clear commitment to stop nuclear testing as one of the conditions.

To ensure that India does not block Pakistan’s membership once it is part of the club, the last condition proposed by Grossi is that the “due to the unique nature of the non-NPT Party applications, [non-NPT applicant] would join a consensus of all other Participating Governments on the merits of any non-NPT Party application”.

However, the rest of the proposed conditions are not likely to please China, source of the most vocal opposition to India’s membership – as Pakistan will not meet most of them, at least not immediately. These include separation of military and civilian nuclear facilities, with the latter being under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and signing an additional protocol with the UN atomic agency. All these conditions have already been fulfilled by India as per the implementing steps of the US-India civil nuclear agreement.

After the November consultative group meeting, China had reiterated its position that “any solution shall be non-discriminatory and applicable to all non-NPT countries”. Further, any process to bring in new members should not hurt the “core values” of NSG which has “NPT as the cornerstone”, asserts Beijing, strongly hinting that signing the NPT should be a non-negotiable condition. This would, obviously leave out Pakistan – but is more useful to keep out India from NSG.