India Can Get into NSG, No Problem, but by Endorsing Pak’s Bid

It’s a foregone conclusion that with China’s push Pakistan will get membership of the NSG, writes Gautam Mukherjee.

4 min read
(Photo: Hardeep Singh/ <b>The Quint</b>)

Diplomatic orthodoxies are meant to be broken when circumstances change. Today, India is being let in, through one portal after another, into the restricted world of sensitive and high technology trades.

Excluded before, forced to reinvent the wheel, badly, as a security and proliferation risk, a Soviet satellite, never mind our pretensions of being non-aligned.

Our military machine, to date, is Soviet-era, obsolete, kept going by honourable and skilled soldiers, with some new buy-ins from successor Russia. But since it’s all at negotiated market rates now, we have been looking elsewhere too.


Change in Policy Stance

India now buys armaments and systems from Israel, the US, France, Britain, Italy, and new sources, like Sweden, Germany and Japan.

It’s not that Russia does not make state-of-the-art weapons; its new defensive shield surface-to-air rapid deployable mobile missile system, the S-500 Prometey (Prometheus), is considered to be the best in the world, and many, including India, have placed orders.

But there is a big change in our policy stance today. We keep our right to sovereign choice. We judge things from an ‘India first’ position. We collaborate with, or buy, from whomsoever we like. Nobody minds that. Today, we take a far more pragmatic view of things; and others, in a position to help us, find that refreshing.


Relevance of MTCR Membership

India’s recent admittance to the 34-member Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a year after we applied, is a proud and enabling thing. It will help us improve the quality of future missiles produced, and allow us to import Predator drones from the US, good for cross- border forays.

Prior to being let into the MTCR, India has been adhering to its guidelines anyway. It has also signed ‘The Hague Code of Conduct’ against ballistic missile proliferation. The acceptance of India into the MTCR is a precursor to being let in to a number of other important and exclusive high-technology and security-sensitive groupings.

The NSG Challenge

We are presently knocking on the doors of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). America, which is selling us six Westinghouse nuclear power plants, for a start, now that the accident liability issues have been resolved, is our champion once again. The plenary session in Seoul is scheduled for June 24, 2016.

It might just decide to admit India. America wants access to our huge defence and high-technology market, and seeks to build us up as a responsible counter-weight to China. To get China’s agreement to our entry, America may make a covert promise to let Pakistan in as well.

America has various internal legal obstructions in how it can ramp up military cooperation and sensitive equipment transfers with/to India, indeed to any country which is not part of the NSG. There has already been a preliminary meeting of the 48-member group,  on June 9  in Vienna, when India’s entry was discussed, with most member states in favour of letting us in.

However, NSG membership can only be obtained with unanimity. And China has objected, on points of order, involving the test ban treaty and the nuclear proliferation treaty, neither of which have been signed, either by India or Pakistan. Neither can afford to do so, at this stage, as their military nuclear weapons programmes would be impacted.

China is also concerned that if India gets into the NSG first it may well block Pakistan’s entry. China would ideally like the entry of one to be contingent on the other.


The NSG Hurdle

  • India trying hard for NSG membership since 2008 in a bid to boost its nuclear commerce.
  • Pakistan apprehends that India’s NSG membership will fuel a nuclear arms race in the region.
  • While India’s case is being backed by the US, based on its non-proliferation record, China is resisting India’s bid.
  • In the past China has gone ahead with its nuclear cooperation programme with Pakistan, going as far as violating the NSG guidelines.
American  Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s President Xi Jinping pose for a photo during the eighth  US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing,  June 6, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
American Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s President Xi Jinping pose for a photo during the eighth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing, June 6, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

China’s Insecurities

For nuclear-weaponised states, however small or big their stockpile -- and however sophisticated -- it is definitely a zero-sum game.

Non-nuclear weapons’ states too tend to be allied to one big brother or the other, as in Assad’s Syria and Putin’s Russia, for example.

If India gets in, and not Pakistan, the balance of power in South Asia will be disturbed. In any case, there is no keeping Pakistan out of attaining parity with India. Consider that Pakistan has obtained just as many nuclear power plants from China as India is buying from NSG sources, following its nuclear power deal in 2008, after getting a waiver from this self-same NSG.

This is in contravention of NSG rules, but China has flouted them with impunity.

India, meanwhile, has come all the way from Soviet favouring non-alignment, even as Pakistan sat in America’s lap, to declaring that our relationship with America is indispensable, just days ago. America, too, now sees India as a significant ally.

But to quell Chinese concerns, why shouldn’t India call for Pakistan’s application and entry into the NSG as well?  After all, it’s a foregone conclusion.

Today, if India welcomes the idea of Pakistan joining the NSG,  irrespective of whether the grouping can bring itself to ignore Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism and its proliferation record, then we will effectively remove objections to our own bid.

And if the NSG rejects Pakistan’s bid it won’t be India’s fault, or China’s for that matter. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just asked Russia for support and will meet both Putin and Xi Jinping separately on the margins of other conferences, before the NSG meets at Seoul on June 24.

(Gautam Mukherjee is a plugged-in commentator and instant analyser. He can be reached at @gautammuk)

Also read:

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