The Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) is a 48-nation club committed to limiting nuclear arms proliferation by overseeing the export, re-transfer and protection of sensitive materials that could foster nuclear weapons development.
It was formed in 1974 following the India’s nuclear test, which demonstrated that nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be used to build nuclear weapons.
Guidelines for the group were published in 1978 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which were to be applied to nuclear transfers for peaceful purposes to help ensure that such transfers would not fall victim to a harmful nuclear fuel cycle or be used in nuclear explosive activities.
The aim of the NSG Guidelines is to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not pave way to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and that international trade and cooperation in the nuclear field is not hindered unjustly in the process.
The NSG Guidelines facilitate the development of trade in this area by providing the means whereby obligations to facilitate peaceful nuclear cooperation can be implemented in a manner consistent with international nuclear non-proliferation norms.
In 1992, the NSG established guidelines for transfers of nuclear-related dual-use equipment, material and technology (items which have both nuclear and non-nuclear applications), which could make a significant contribution to unprotected nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activity.
Over the course of these years, the NSG has made numerous legislative reforms such as adopting a “catch-all” mechanism in the NSG guidelines, to provide a national legal basis to control the export of nuclear related items that are not on the control lists.
How does the NSG work?
When considering a new nation to be admitted into the group, the NSG has certain prerequisites countries have to meet.
The country should have the ability to supply items, including items in transit. The country should adhere to and act in accordance with the guidelines of the group.
The nation needs to also implement a legally based domestic export control system which gives authorisation to the commitment to act in accordance with the guidelines.
Adherence to one or more of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), the Treaties of Pelindaba, Rarotonga, Tlatelolco, Bangkok, Semipalatinsk or an equivalent international nuclear non-proliferation agreement, and full compliance with the obligations of such agreement(s).
They also have to pledge their support of international efforts towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their delivery vehicles.
Upon admittance of a potential member, the NSG has to vote on it first.
All members have to vote in favour; only a consensus can allow the admission of another nation, if any member votes against inclusion of a new country, the motion will not go through.
Why it’s important for countries involved
Pakistan applied for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group on May 20, saying its inclusion would help further non-proliferation objectives.
Pakistan has formally asked the US administration and the Congress to support its application for joining the NSG after it submitted an official application in Vienna, expressing its desires to join the group on solid grounds of technical experience, capability and well-established commitment to nuclear safety.
However, both US administration and Congress look unwilling to lend their support for Pakistan’s cause.
Pakistan urges that its inclusion in the 48-nation club is in the interest of nuclear trading countries, as it will further promote NSG non-proliferation objectives by the inclusion of a state with nuclear supply capabilities and its adherence to the NSG Guidelines.
Pakistan’s request for membership of the group came after India’s application for membership. If admitted, India would be part of the decision mechanism, and would have say in decisions of nuclear commerce and will eventually have the ability to sell equipment.
Pakistan argues that in the wake of India gaining easy access to fissile material and technology for its civilian nuclear programme, it would have that much more material for its military nuclear programme.
“Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure and the ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses,” said Tasnim Aslam, head of the UN desk at the Foreign Office.
India gaining NSG membership will eventually lead to a nuclear arms race.
If India gains membership it will be the only participating country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a requirement for being part of the NSG.
Many countries that initially opposed its entry, such as Australia, have changed stance; Mexico and Switzerland are the latest to voice support.
Since 2010, the US administration has been actively supporting India’s efforts. It has repeatedly given exemptions to India and recently Obama officially endorsed India’s application to join the group.
Only one participating country stands in between India’s inclusion into the NSG— China. Until China accepts India’s entry, there is no hope of membership since the decision has to be a consensus among all active members.
China argues admission in the group should be norm based, and rules applied to give India membership should also apply to all new entrants.