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Monday, December 11, 2017
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NSG membership: The writing on the great wall
SHYAM SARAN

India is better served fashioning an appropriate strategy for the changing global order, rather than single-mindedly pursuing NSG membership.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul last week ended with no decision on India’s application to join the group as a full member. This outcome was widely expected ever since China took a public stand against a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) being granted membership, since it felt this would undermine the international non-proliferation regime. It elaborated this position further by suggesting that the NSG thoroughly discuss the subject of membership of non-NPT states so that a set of objective criteria could be agreed upon and that no application was treated as an exceptional case.
Having taken this stance, China tried to prevent any formal discussion on India’s application for membership, saying that the issue of agreed criteria for admitting non-NPT members had to be discussed and agreed upon first. When Chinese objections were overcome and a discussion on India’s application was held eventually, this did not materially change the situation since China and a few other members continued to oppose a decision on the same procedural grounds.
Shyam Saran
The NSG outcome document is in line with Chinese insistence that what should remain on the agenda is the basis on which non-NPT countries could be considered for membership without undermining the NPT as a cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime. Therefore, India’s entry into the NSG as a unique and exceptional case may be extremely difficult even if a determined lobbying effort is launched in the coming weeks and months. The only practical possibility would be for India and Pakistan to be admitted together, which China has indicated it would be willing to support. The problem is that most NSG members will have to hold their noses to swallow and digest the Pakistani application, even if India has no objection. China has ensured that India and Pakistan are now joined at the hip as far as entry into the NSG is concerned.
Working around China
In 2008, India was able to get a waiver from the NSG as an exceptional case allowing it to engage in international commerce in civilian nuclear technology and equipment even though, as a nuclear weapon state, it did not have all its nuclear facilities under international safeguards as required by the group. China was opposed to the waiver but did not take a public stand on it. It encouraged countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland to oppose a consensus on the waiver for India, arguing that it would seriously undermine the NPT, that it would upset the nuclear balance in South Asia and trigger a nuclear arms race, and that a criteria-based rather than a country-specific approach should be adopted in order to avoid the charge of discriminatory practice. This was conveyed to me by the then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark when I called on her to solicit her country’s support at the NSG.
However, whenever the issue was raised with the Chinese in meetings between our top leaders or senior officials, the response was a standard mantra: China welcomes the opportunity to promote civil nuclear cooperation with India, but would not want to undermine in any way the international non-proliferation regime. This was ambiguous enough to give China tactical flexibility at the NSG. In light of this ambiguous public posture, our assessment was that if a broad consensus could be built on granting India a waiver, China would not be the one country to raise its hand and oppose the decision. And this is precisely what happened. On the morning of September 6, 2008, even before the last holdout countries like Ireland, New Zealand and Austria had formally dropped their opposition, China conveyed a message to the Indian delegation that it had decided to support the draft waiver decision.
Future-proofing the waiver
Eight years later the geopolitical backdrop against which the NSG meeting took place in Seoul has changed substantially and made it more difficult for India to obtain what should have been a very simple, straightforward decision on membership. The waiver in 2008 had involved very difficult and complex negotiations on the wording of the decision reconciling the different requirements posed by certain key member countries. India’s current application for membership could have been approved by a simple reference to the waiver decision itself which spells out the basis on which it was granted. This may have been the reason for China to take a public stand opposing India’s membership.... More
 
 
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