Ahead of Plenary Meeting, Switzerland Announces Support for India's NSG Entry

If everything goes according to plan, India could be entering two out of four export control regimes this week.

New Delhi: During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s short stop in Geneva on Monday morning, Switzerland officially endorsed India’s bid to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), bringing down the the number of hold-out countries before the group’s plenary this week.

After arriving late Sunday night, Modi’s first engagement was with the president of the Swiss Federation Johann Schneider-Ammann early on Monday morning. After delegation level talks, both were ready to make their decisions public before the waiting press.

After Schneider-Ammann gave Swiss backing, Modi expressed his gratitude “to the president for Switzerland’s understanding and support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group”.

With Switzerland’s support in the bag, Modi flew to Washington for a three-day visit. After his trip to the US, he will make a stop in Mexico before returning to India.

Modi’s sojourn to Mexico is also for the same purpose, to get the vote of the Latin American country which has previously been reluctant to give its support due to India being a non-signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Diplomatic sources confirmed that the Mexican government will also express its official support for India’s application to enter the NSG, where decisions are taken by consensus.

This week, therefore, could see India entering two out of four export control regimes – NSG as well as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) – if everything goes according to plan. But in international diplomacy, the best laid plans often go awry.

India’s big push to NSG membership in the recent months had been led by a low-profile but extensive outreach programme, with Indian diplomats of secretary-level rank sent out as special envoys to capitals of the hold-outs.

Before the NSG plenary, Indian and US officials are hopeful that formalities for entry to MTCR will soon be complete so that an announcement can be made in Washington. India also announced its adherence to the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation in the run-up to this important week.

India’s entry to the MTCR was scuttled by Italy in a surprise move at the October 2015 meeting, in a bid to force New Delhi to negotiate the return of Italian marine Salvatore Girone. The Italian objection disappeared after the Supreme Court allowed him to stay in Italy during the entire period of the international arbitration.

In 2008, when the US, UK and France lobbied for India to get a waiver from the NSG, the camp of naysayers had the usual suspects – China, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Mexico and Switzerland. One by one, all of them stepped down after receiving phone calls from then US President George Bush, who was personally invested in implementing the roadmap for the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

This time, however, the main difference has been China’s open and vociferous opposition to India’s membership. Six years ago, Beijing had been equally uneasy, but had preferred to operate from behind the scenes and shoot from the shoulders of other countries. A direct communication from Bush to Hu Jintao apparently led to China removing its informal veto.

“The opposition to India’s entry into the NSG has come from small countries like Switzerland, which has been addressed by personal démarches. However, China’s position on connecting NSG to NPT, however unrealistic, still stands,” former Indian prime minister’s special envoy for disarmament and non-proliferation, Rakesh Sood, told The Wire. Till China remains even the sole outlier in opposing Indian membership, doors of the NSG will remain firmly closed to New Delhi, he pointed out. “Ultimately, India will have to understand China’s objections and try to find a way out”.