Accepting a Nuclear India

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Accepting a Nuclear India

India shouldn’t have to accept restrictions that don’t apply to other Nuclear Suppliers Group members. It’s time to recognize India’s goodwill—and good record.

The international community is now looking at how best to bring India into multilateral nuclear export control regimes. During his November 2010 visit to India, US President Barack Obama delivered a number of speeches and issued a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that contained some significant policy pronouncements, particularly over the accommodation of India in US and multilateral export control regimes.

Obama announced, for example, that the United States would support India’s candidature in the four multilateral export control regimes—the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. India meets all the criteria for membership of the MTCR, although it may have to add a few items to its dual use technology control list to meet the criteria for the Australia Group. But for membership in the strategically key NSG and Wassenaar Arrangement, there’s a significant sticking point in the form of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

After Obama’s announcement supporting India’s membership, France and Russia also offered their support, and the idea that India might be given membership incrementally gained some traction. It was generally believed that the Australia Group would come first, followed by the MTCR and the NSG and the Wassenaar Arrangement in that order. However, the Indian establishment wants membership to come as a package, a position broadly supported by the Indian strategic community. As this message has been sent out around the world, concerned global players have two options: either deny or accept India’s membership of all regimes.

And, with India’s economy performing well even during the global financial crisis (and with it being an equally important producer, client and consumer of advanced technology) other nations may well have no choice but to accommodate India. Indeed, the process of accommodation seems to have already begun. Analysts and non-governmental experts are being consulted over how India might best be included in the regimes, and although there’s so far little news on official interactions, the fact that the non-governmental community has been sounded out has prompted much speculation.

Unfortunately, the ongoing counter-arguments to accommodating India’s position were given voice in a short essay entitled ‘NSG Membership: A Criteria-based Approach for Non-NPT States,’ penned by Pierre Goldschmidt for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Although the essay maintains a semblance of objectivity, it sadly reflects the prejudice prevalent in parts of the US non-proliferation community. The very first paragraph, for example, opens with the cliché: ‘The nuclear policy community widely believes this (the 2008 NSG guidelines) exemption undermines the credibility of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.’ But while some point to the China-Pakistan deal for building additional reactors at the Chashma complex as an example of what US accommodating of India has led to, even a novice in the field should know that Pakistan and China would have cut the deal irrespective of the India-specific exemptions. After all, the Pakistan-China deal was made on the basis of a grandfather clause of a previous unseen agreement, while it’s hard to believe that Pakistan's blocking of negotiations for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty at last year’s Conference on Disarmament wouldn’t have happened anyway.

Goldschmidt did at least propose a set of 14 criteria for membership of the NSG for non-NPT countries which would, in his words, ‘correct the inequality created by the Indian exception’. But while 11 of the criteria are already part of Indian policy, the other three look unrealistic and may not be taken seriously in India as they look designed simply to constrain it.

The problem is the Goldschmidt essay persists in pursuing the unfinished agenda of the July 2005 agreement of the anti-India non-proliferation lobby. Thus, the second criteria proposes that: ‘To become a full member of the NSG, a non-NPT state must…have in force a Voluntary Offer Agreement (VOA) with the International Atomic Energy Agency whereby the non-NPT State undertakes to place all new nuclear facilities located outside existing military nuclear sites on the list of facilities to be safeguarded by the IAEA…’ This amounts to a reopening of the separation plan, something that’s clearly unacceptable to India.

In addition, Goldschmidt seems to expect India to take on obligations that haven’t been assumed by members of the NSG. But it’s beyond comprehension, for example, why India shouldn’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons for its security. Has any other nuclear weapon country given an assurance it won’t do so to gain NSG membership? And when China was made a member, where was the fuss over the fact that it was then in the news for supplying nuclear and missile items to non-NPT and non-nuclear weapons states?  Interestingly, not only the US government, but also a significant slice of the US non-proliferation community went mute as Chinese proliferation was downplayed and the country was declared an important stakeholder of the non-proliferation system.

To resolve the challenge posed by the NPT criteria, the best solution would be to amend the NPT and accommodate India as a nuclear weapon state. India already has good standing with treaty provisions, something that could be factored in pending membership. After becoming a nuclear weapons state, for example, India declared its intention to unilaterally follow articles I, III and VI of the NPT.

The reality is that India won’t modify its strategy of ambiguous nuclear weapon status for NSG membership. If it’s serious about non-proliferation, therefore, the international community should accommodate India, while avoiding recommending any steps that would benefit proliferators like Pakistan. Failure to follow this course will only further undermine the already damaged credibility of the non-proliferation community.

Rajiv Nayan is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) in New Delhi. This is an edited and abridged version of an article that was originally published by the organization here.