New Delhi should try to make the Nuclear Suppliers Group irrelevant: The Statesman

Indian activists hold placards and shout slogans as they protest against China over the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) issue, in New Delhi.
Indian activists hold placards and shout slogans as they protest against China over the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) issue, in New Delhi.PHOTO: EPA

India’s failure to gain membership of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) at its plenary in Seoul, South Korea, is not the end of the road. 

India has the option and ability to make NSG irrelevant by speeding up the Fast Breeder Reactor programme, deliberately relegated to the back burner by the previous UPA (United Progressive Alliance - a coalition of centre-left political parties led by the Congress (I)) government. 

These reactors have the capacity to produce plutonium. 

Investment in FBRs will also serve the primary purpose of fueling the third stage of our nuclear energy strategy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit and sought support for India’s NSG membership. 

While India blamed China alone for opposing India’s entry, Brazil, China, Mexico, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey also maintained that induction of countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would be against NSG norms. 

Going by the official statement issued on 24 June at the end of the Seoul plenary that “the participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime,” which included the USA and others, makes the decision unanimous.

The NSG works on consensus. 

To expect that Modi’s charm would overcome established rules is being unrealistic. 

The 2008 NSG waiver was an exception made possible by the USA to sell its unsaleable reactors to India.

The waiver allows India to access nuclear fuel technology that NSG membership would have provided. 

In the process, it gave China an excuse to openly sell more reactors to Pakistan and made it dependent on Beijing for building its nuclear plants. 

India chose a high decibel campaign for NSG membership because US President Barack Obama pledged full support which the next President might not extend. 

Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj flew around the world soliciting support.

Even if India had made it in Seoul, it would not have been full membership like the existing 48 who are entitled to trade in all phases of the nuclear cycle, while India would be denied enrichment and reprocessing. 

Two years after India was granted the waiver, the NSG revised its original guidelines by amending paragraph 6 to prohibit trade in enrichment and reprocessing with any country that has not signed the NPT. 

Just as the NGS was set up to target India after its 1974 Pokhran nuclear test, the amendment was introduced to target India after the 2008 waiver.

Although India’s membership of the NSG would not have harmed China in any way, it would prove to be an obstacle in Pakistan’s effort to become a member. 

Turkey has already expressed its view that India and Pakistan should be treated alike in their drive to become NSG members. 

Pakistan’s application was used by China to take the stand on non-NTP members. 

India’s increasing closeness to the USA and strengthening of ties with Australia and Japan could also have contributed to China’s obduracy at the Seoul plenary. 

Instead of succumbing to the dictates of the NSG, India should pursue indigenous enrichment and reprocessing rather than second class membership.
The Statesman is a member of the The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.