Indian Decade

An Intriguing Silence

Why isn’t a regulatory body calling out China on wanting to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan?

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an organization composed of 46 industrialized nations that aims to regulate the global trade in nuclear facilities, is now confronted with a dilemma.

China has, as has been mentioned before on this blog, made it clear that it wishes to sell its ‘all weather’ ally, Pakistan, two nuclear reactors. As a non-signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Pakistan is barred from participating in global nuclear commerce. China, however, is publicly arguing that the sale would be grandfathered under the terms of a contract that harks back to 2004 and thereby does not contravene any NSG guidelines. Privately, they have made clear that they are pursuing this deal because the US granted India, another non-adherent to the NPT regime, a similar deal in 2008.

The NSG's relative quiescence in the wake of the Chinese announcement to sell the two reactors to Pakistan, a country with one of the world's worst proliferation records, is intriguing. Many of the members of this organization had vehemently opposed the US-India civilian nuclear deal. American cajolery, persuasion and even some pressure had induced them to end their opposition, albeit most grudgingly. Many of these self-same states are now blaming India (and the US) for having set a precedent.

Comparing the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement and the proposed Sino-Pakistani deal is nothing short of chimerical. China was instrumental in enabling Pakistan to acquire a nuclear weapon. Pakistan, under the redoubtable AQ Khan, ran one of the most outrageous proliferation networks and the Pakistani nuclear weapons program was based upon a series of clandestine efforts. Comparing Pakistan's record on the proliferation front with that of India is simply laughable. More to the point, this attempt to shift the blame for the proposed deal on to India reeks of hypocrisy.

The truth is that none of them wish to confront China because they all have significant commercial and trade interests and fear the wrath of the rising power. The real issue here is not any putative breach of nonproliferation norms but the cold, hard calculations of national interest.

Image (above): Map of the Members States of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.