The Nuclear Suppliers Group at the Crossroads


Members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will meet in Prague this month for the group’s annual plenary meeting. At the top of this year’s agenda will be the completion of the first-ever comprehensive review of the NSG’s export control lists. This is a priority for the group given the complex and expanding landscape of global nuclear commerce and the associated proliferation risks. There are, however, two other issues looming over the NSG – India’s bid for membership and China’s continued flouting of the export guidelines. These issues have significant implications for the credibility of the NSG and its ability to support non-proliferation norms and international security.

The NSG’s Background

The NSG was established in 1975 to supplement the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by addressing nuclear commerce. The need for it became clear when the NPT, which was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970, failed to prevent India from conducting a “peaceful nuclear explosion.”

With the goal of preventing the spread of nuclear technology proliferation, seven nuclear supplier states established the NSG. It has since grown to include 47 participating governments (PGs) and has become the principle multilateral export control body for nuclear-related trade. Prospective members are evaluated on several factors and admission must be agreed on by all PGs. One inflexible criterion in this determination has been the adherence to the NPT or a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty – effectively barring any non-NPT nuclear weapon state. 

India’s Prospective Membership

India is not a party to the NPT. It could not become a nuclear-weapon state under the treaty, which limited admission to the nuclear club to the five states that tested before 1967. By testing after that date and by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons rather than accede to the NPT, India has long been a nuclear outlier. As such, it has been kept outside of the NSG and until recently barred from international nuclear commerce. While it has expressed interest in joining the NSG, New Delhi is waiting for broad international support before formally applying to the group.

Such support appears to be gaining momentum. During a state visit to India in November 2010, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would back India’s membership in the NSG, as well as the other multilateral export control regimes: the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australian Group, and the Wassanaar Arrangement. Several other countries have since echoed their support, especially those hoping to profit from India’s nuclear market.

This support is derived from the U.S.-led effort over the last few years to incorporate India into the global nuclear order. The watershed event in this process occurred in 2008, when the NSG issued an India-specific waiver allowing it to engage in nuclear trade. India has since signed civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with the U.S., UK, France, Canada, Argentina, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, and South Korea.

With plans to perfect developmental nuclear technologies such as fast-breeder and thorium-based reactors, India also has ambitions to become a global nuclear supplier. By securing membership in the NSG, India would have a voice in determining new export guidelines related to those technologies – an influence not granted under its waiver for nuclear commerce. 

Prior to the last two NSG plenaries, the U.S. circulated white papers outlining how membership criteria could be adjusted to accommodate India. These efforts, however, made little headway. Press releases following those plenaries vaguely recounted that the body “continued to consider all aspects of the implementation of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India.”

Uncle Ji
September 13, 2013 at 07:46

NPT is not Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its most aptly referred to as PPT i.e. Partial Proliferation Treaty. I say this because NPT or rather PPT allows 5 countries i.e. US, USSR, UK, France and China to own nuclear weapons but not India. What is so special about Russians or Chinese that they can own nuclear weapons but Indians can/should not ? 

Unless this clause is rectified in PPT India will never sign it. If you really want a solution all the countires that have on their own developed nuclear weapons i.e. USA, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Israel must  pledge to give up their weapons in a timebound manner. Then you will be able to coax others to joining non-proliferation. The effort has been started by Barack Obama however not much has happened. Until then India should ignore the lethargy about NSG giving it membership and go its merry way i.e. export the complete civilian fuel cycle nuclearn plants it has developed.


June 30, 2013 at 04:39

The twenty-third Plenary Meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was   was held in Prague on 13 and 14 June 2013. The Plenary welcomed Mexico and Serbia to their first Plenary Meeting as  NSG Participating Governments, and  sustained to think about all aspects of the implementation of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India;where as at the other side it was emphasized to fulfill the aim of preventing  the proliferation of nuclear weapons by promoting transparency and greater supplier responsibility in the transfer of items that may be applicable to nuclear weapon development, without hindering legitimate trade and international cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. it’s very obvious that NSG countries will be providing a platform for a advancement in  India nuclear technology, keeping in view their reactors will be able produce enough fissile material for their military programs.

 Minister Schwarzenberg in his welcome statement on behalf of the Czech Government expressed his government´s strong support for NSG activities and noted the significant contribution of the NSG to global efforts to counter ever evolving nuclear threats, thus substantially reinforcing the spirit and purposes of the NPT.If India is favored the NON proliferation regime is highly at stake as India is a non NPT   state ,  and if International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approves and  publish all 54 agreed amendments in a revised INFCIRC/254/Parts 1 and 2 the 2013 Prague NSG Plenary  28 amendments to the NSG Control Lists will pose a big question mark on Non proliferation regime.


June 29, 2013 at 17:49

Interestingly, India does not allow international supervision over all its nuclear activities and is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Joining NPT is a pre-requisite for the NSG membership.

Though the spotlight is on Pakistan's nuclear programme, India will further enlarge strategic reserves of weapons stockpiles, and thus start challenging the major nuclear powers. Then, it would be too late to give precedence to economic imperatives over nonproliferation pipedreams and global stability.

nicholas rein
June 29, 2013 at 17:47

This waiver will dent the global nuclear non-proliferation efforts and weaken the international safeguards system because it may lead to diversion of India’s indigenously-produced fissile materials to military programmes.

Membership of NSG could also entice India to sell reactors and enrichment/reprocessing technology to anyone today because it is outside the NPT and has no obligations. India could also play hardball and freeze consensus on FMCT. It is currently taking a comfortable cover behind Pakistan.

India’s missile program is advanced and it can sell missiles and related tech to anyone since it is outside MTCR.

June 29, 2013 at 17:28

It is outrageous that such a critical vote, one that will forever change the global nonproliferation regime, was taken without the benefit of full Congressional review and oversight, as required by the law. This is a terrible bill that threatens the future of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.  this was stated by  Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) before the House approval on September 27, 2008. As the creation of the NSG formaly know as London club was acctully makred with the 1974 nuclear test.So 2008 the same country pushing up for the NSG Waivor

June 12, 2013 at 06:44

G.Bush's administration promised nuclear technology transfer to India in return for support of Afghan/Iraq war. India bought it and complied.

Only that it was a 'promise' and ever remains so.

And now, India has to cozy up to the servant that delivers the same promise because it is not master.



June 11, 2013 at 23:43

@ Mazo

Nuclear Proliferation is much more than sell nuclear secrets. Using civilian nuclear technology for military purposes IS ALSO nuclear proliferation, which is what India did to jump-start its nuclear program. You ask why Pakistan should be trusted with nuclear technology, well I would also ask how India can be trusted with nuclear technology. If you sell them a civilian reactor, will they or will they not use it to produce fissile material? They fact is the original sin of nuclear weapons development was already committed by India.

Yes the NPT-NSG regime is discriminatory, but it is an attempt to deal with a very frightening situation. With respect the the India-Pakistan dynamic, my opinion is that India was the direct "cause" of the Pakistani bomb. India had to satisfy its own vanity/China inferiority complex, ignoring its own stratiegic situation. AQ Khan would not have been in a position to sell nuclear secrets if India did not build the bomb. Pakistan would not have spent that money without a good reason.

June 11, 2013 at 23:37

your absolutely right, which is why India has always been mistrusted by its two most important neighbors.

June 11, 2013 at 16:22

you forget korea.

June 11, 2013 at 15:53

Fact is India would NEVER accept giving up its nuclear wepons program or its existing nuclear weapons REGARDLESS of what the WEST, Japan or any other nation may say. India rejects the entire NPT/NSG regieme as a "nuclear apartheid" and neither trusts nor believes in the self-advertised claims of "good governance" and "responsibility" Western nations have given themselves.

The only way for the West to get India's 20 odd civilian reactors into the some kind of oversight and ensure the responsible spread of nuclear technology was to bring India into the nuclear regieme because India has invested extensively in developing its own reactor technology and is working towards a comprehensive national nuclear energy plan for the last 40 years that seeks to use Thorium as a reliable and viable alternative to Uranium/Plutonium to power its energy needs.

Giving India access to the international nuclear fuel market and bringing it into the international regime strengthened oversight over more reactors globally and further saw India make significant commitments towards moderating its nuclear weapons program.

Pakistan is a bankrupt state where nuclear material are very loosely controlled. It's "ramping up" or bringing in Chinese support is meaningless as the safety of 1 nuclear device is just as crucial as the safety of 100s for the damage they can do. If the NSG is too cowardly to rein in its own membership like China from delivering more nuclear reactors and nuclear material to unsafeguarded reactors like Pakistan's then it is the failure of the NSG, not the failure of India or a mistake in bringing India into a regime of accountability based on its own commitment toward nuclear non-proliferation.

June 11, 2013 at 15:42

They RECONGNIZED India's solid commitment to non-proliferation by its long record of being a responsible nuclear power . Unlike Pakistan whose top nuclear scientists AQ KHAN sold nuclear blueprints to every abdul and ali baba from North Korea to Libya for money. Also, Pakistani nuclear scientists had met with Bin Laden and had ties to Al Qeda according to the CIA's own assesments and the confessions of AQ Khan.

This is why India got an exemption while Pakistan doesn't DESERVE an exemption. It's ironic that you aren't aware of this basic fact yet comment here.

June 11, 2013 at 15:38

Why ? If the NSG is supposed to be a body that promoted nuclear non-proliferation how does admitting the only nation to openly sell nuclear weapons technology blueprints make them candidates equal to India which has an impeccable record of non-proliferation of nuclear technologies ??

Equating India and Pakistan as "equal" before the NSG is absurd and ignorant.

June 11, 2013 at 13:32

Russia is building Iranian nuclear plants and many more in other countries. China is not alone.

However, taking any action against Russia in the nuclear front is suicide.

If India is going to be in it, Pakistan too should be in it.


June 11, 2013 at 07:41

why did they give exemption to India, instead it should have been given to pakistan. still it is not to late

NSG with storke of a pen can easily give it to pakistan.

June 11, 2013 at 05:39

to give some semblence of going by global rules.
that said, the only reason those exports to pakistan got through was because of the US push for a nuclear deal with india which spits in the face of the NPT/NSG(read: done openly rather than convertly)

June 10, 2013 at 23:08

The combined NPT-NSG regime worked until India's "exemption" because the incentives for being within it were great enough to entice states towards good nuclear behaviour. Prospective nuclear states were bribed with access to Australian and Canadian uranium ores and Japanese and French technology, in exchange for complying with a range of approved behabiours. China's inclusion in them secured Chinese committments which could later be verified and used to applaud or criticize the Chinese government over its behaviour. All charges of hypocrasy can be ignored since these were voluntary committments, made in exchange for the goodies of inclusion within the NPT-NSG regime.


India's "exemption" turned the incentives strategy on its head. Instead of using them as a carrot for enticing countries towards good behaviour, they were offered directly to India by the US, without the formal procedure of including the other opinions of the existing regime. Ths was obviously because the US feared that it would lose in the NSG due to opposition from newly inducted member China, but also Japan (which typically opposes nuclear shenanegans of all kinds) and various European countries. While India made committments in kind, their effect must be less than a committment made to the NSG, because they were made outside the framework of a membership bid but instead as a bilateral concession to the US. Worse, the "exemption" infuriated the India-wary Pakistanis, who not only (by virtue of the Indian precedent) expected similar exemptions for its nuclear program, but were determined to match India's apparently growing nuclear superiority by trying harder to woo Chinese nuclear investment, as well as directly building more warheads.


The two issues discussed in the article are both serious and ultimately regrettable instances of national power politics triumphing over sensible international norms, but it is important to note that one came before the other and was a significant factor in the development of the other. If India was not given its (probably undeserved) access to the goodies of the NPT-NSG regime outside of a framework towards membership, then much of the incentive for the subsequent Chna-Pakistan dynamic simply would not have existed. The "exemption" weakend a venerable and useful international institution, and the Chinese-Pakistani activity exploited that weakness.

June 10, 2013 at 18:49

Wow, everything is about China these days. So many people are hell bent on taking China down and containing its rising power. lol. What is China doing in the NSG in the first place? 

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