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India, Pakistan and Future of Nuclear Suppliers Group

If India is considered as the potential candidate for the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan’s candidacy too should be taken into consideration in order to create a stable regional environment in South Asia.

[Usman Ali Khan | Oped Column Magazine]

In the aftermath of the India’s 1974 nuclear test attempt and the subsequent developments carried out by other states, the recognized nuclear powers [of the time] were convinced that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) alone would be fruitless in preventing the spread of nuclear technology. Therefore, the nuclear states felt the necessary to establish an international body to dealt with such issues and, subsequently, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was formed.

Since then, the NSG has become the world’s leading multilateral nuclear export control arrangement, establishing guidelines that govern transfers of nuclear-related materials, equipment and technology. The developments that took place in the following decades had brought about a number of challenges to the NSG, including questions about its credibility and future membership, its relationship to the NPT and other multilateral arrangements.

Both India and Pakistan have been recently engaged with intense nuclear diplomacy to back their respective cases for gaining membership into the NSG. These two South Asian neighbors have applied for the membership of the NSG that reinforces the NPT’s core objective of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, the NSG is faced with the dilemma of choosing between ‘India-only preferential approach’ and ‘admitting both India and Pakistan’ on the basis of specifically developed non-proliferation criteria.

Nevertheless, with the preferential treatment to a few member states, the NSG – as a regime – has been undermining its non-proliferation principle in order to fulfill the commercial and geopolitical interests.

Moreover, with the unprecedented and country-specific exemption granted to India in 2008, the door was left open for nuclear cooperation with the NSG.

The aforesaid exemption was driven by the United States’ (US) strategy to strengthen India against growing Chinese influence in the region. This strategy, however, disregards the impact of the exemption on the regional stability. To many, the exemption affects the NSG’s credibility as an effective non-proliferation institution.

The exemption – without compensating NSG’s standards – has weakened the NSG along with the broader nuclear non-proliferation regime. Interestingly, dominant non-proliferation experts have argued against bending rules in favor of India. A number of key US officials too fear that this preferential treatment to India could bring about a renewed arms race in South Asia. Hence, it appears that there are reservations as well as unease with the India-specific approach.

The NSG race does not appear well for Asia as a whole. India’s presence in the NSG – as the only South Asian nuclear-state without Pakistan, which too is a regional nuclear-state – would cast a cloud over the peace and stability in South Asia as well as the entire Asia-Pacific region. The group has to assess whether India conforms to its non-proliferation objectives and has to check India’s ulterior motive, if any, in its quest for the NSG membership.

For example, a meeting was held between counterparts from both sides (NSG and India).  Views regarding transfers related to sensitive nuclear technologies such as Enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) was discussed. Interestingly, Indian officials warned that the “Proposed restrictions on transfer of sensitive nuclear items are a ‘derogation’, ‘rollback’ of U.S. commitments”. Officials from Indian side claimed that they won ‘clean waiver’ in 2008 from the cartels restrictive export rules, with full access to such technologies. Whereas, as per the revision of 2011 NSG guidelines, ENR transfers are not permissible to non-NPT states. This itself sheds a doubt on India’s actual intention behind seeking the membership.

Doubtlessly, the US’s intention to keep the global strategic balance in its favor has been the sole fuel to the India’s ambition of becoming a greater power. On India’s part, it has no other option otherthan depending on the US’s support to achieve its ambition, as India is yet to achieve the serious extra-regional power-projection capabilities, yet to dominate its own region in the entirety, and – unlike the permanent members of security council – has not yet become a contributor to the shaping up of global economic or military balance.

Hence, the NSG needs to take steps keeping in mind that their decision would certainly have a significant impact on the future credibility and effectiveness of the group. The non-proliferation regime has to get their strategy right; because once, and if, India is admitted into the NSG, it would be difficult to control its strenuously increasing nuclear and missile programs.

Therefore, if India is considered as the potential candidate for the NSG, Pakistan’s candidacy too should be taken into consideration in order to create a stable regional environment.

Usman Ali Khan is a writer and blogger, and pursuing M.Phil degree at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

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