Some turn of events is intriguing. India’s testing of its nuclear weapon in 1974 prompted the birth of an organisation, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), in 1975. Just to demonstrate how the effect can embrace the cause, the NSG is now about to include India into its fold. Nevertheless, this expected merger is neither fortuitous nor infertile; it is rather a continuation of a series of exemptions offered or arranged by the US to India, and it is pregnant with certain advantages for India.
It was the Kargil war of 1999 that changed South Asia, and with that the policy of the US towards the region. Subsequently, the US offered India a 10-year defence pact called the New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship, which was concluded between the then prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, and president of the US, George W Bush, in July 2005. One part of the pact was the US-India nuclear deal the hallmark of which is exemptions offered to India.
Domestically, the US offered two exemptions to India in 2006. The first exemption was proposed when President Bush got the requirement of Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act (USAE Act) 1954 — meant to discourage the export of nuclear materials, equipment and technology to other countries — amended to exclusively favour India. The USAE Act of 1954 was amended through introducing a new bill called the Hyde Bill of 2006, which after approval by the US House of Representatives gave the second exemption to India by stipulating that Washington would not only cooperate with New Delhi on nuclear issues but also exempt India from signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). In the same year, the US Senate passed the Hyde Bill to make it an Act, which is US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006. In 2008, the US enacted another law to allow India to purchase nuclear fuel and technology from the US if India divided its nuclear facilities into two parts — civilian and military. The law was to help India only in civilian nuclear domain. To this effect, the agreement 123 was signed between both the countries.
Internationally, the US helped India seek three exemptions — one from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and two from the NSG. The IAEA is an international organisation that sets guidelines to verify that nuclear energy is not diverted from peaceful civilian use to weapon-developing programmes. Following these guidelines, the NSG is a group of 48-nuclear supplier-states, which coordinates control of nuclear exports, including reactors, fuel and technology, to non-nuclear weapon states only for civilian nuclear purposes. In this domain, the US secured the first exemption for India from the IAEA in 2008 by assuring the organisation that India would follow its guidelines, and that India would be using nuclear technology for energy purposes. The IAEA approved the India-specific safeguard agreement in favour of the US. Then, the US sought the second exemption for India from the NSG to let the US supply nuclear technology to India. Further, the US got another exemption for India from the NSG to let India import nuclear technology, equipment and fuel for civilian nuclear energy purposes from any other country of the world. The NSG also granted both exemptions. In November 2010 and January 2015, on state visits to India, US President Barack Obama announced to help India become member of the NSG, a nuclear export control regime.
As if the series of exemptions from 2006 to 2008 was not enough, the US is now trying to make another exemption possible for India from the NSG: to accept India as its member, probably in the coming plenary session in June, despite the fact that India is not signatory to the NPT.
After becoming a member of the NSG, India will gain certain advantages. First, India will be able to export nuclear technology to other countries, and engage in nuclear commerce for civilian nuclear-energy purposes without any restriction. Second, India’s entry will facilitate its joining other nuclear-related regimes such as Australia Group, Wassenaar Arrangement and Missile Technology Control Regime. Third, India will have a veto power on the entry of any other country aspiring to become a member of the NSG. Fourth, India’s international credibility as a responsible nuclear state will increase manifold. However, the point where India is facing problem is that its entry in the NSG would be based on the consensus of the NSG. That is if no member of the NSG is against its entry. Lately, Pakistan has also formally applied to join the NSG. However, Pakistan faces two main constraints. First, Pakistan has not signed the NPT, and second, Pakistan has a dubious past steeped in nuclear proliferation, in reference to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan network. These points are quite intriguing because India is promoted to become the NSG member despite the fact that the NSG was formed when India converted nuclear fuel and technology obtained in the name of civilian peaceful purposes into building a nuclear bomb for defence purposes, and despite the fact that India is also not a signatory to the NPT.
The point is simple: if Pakistan is guilty of nuclear proliferation, India is also guilty of deceiving the world by acquiring nuclear material and technology for civilian energy purposes but by using it to construct a nuclear bomb tested in 1974. At this juncture, if the apprehension is that after joining the NSG, Pakistan may again indulge in nuclear proliferation of any sort, Pakistan’s apprehension is that after joining the NSG India may once again hoodwink the world by using civilian nuclear technology for military purposes. In short, India has not done anything reputable to qualify for NSG’s membership, and Pakistan has not done anything heinous to be denied NSG’s membership. The dilemma is that Pakistan’s efforts to put restriction on itself through joining the NSG are not yet appreciated in the world.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org