India has been interested in becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ever since the Indo-US Bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement was signed in 2008 and towards achieving this goal, India has finalised the Separation Plan and also ratified the IAEA Additional Protocol as recently as on June 23. The issue of India’s membership was on the agenda of the NSG plenary meeting in Buenos Aires on June 26-27. Some opposition was anticipated. On June 20, US-based think tank IHS Jane’s published an article dealing with some of India’s well-known nuclear facilities but clothing them with imaginary colours jeopardising India’s entry into the NSG. However, at its last meeting, the NSG did not take any firm decision but the issue continues to be one of the hotly discussed topics in the print media. The most significantly, the editorial board of The New York Times has, in an article titled “India’s Role in Nuclear Race” on July 5, strongly attacked India’s membership to the NSG. It is a bit odd and surprising act by such a reputable publication.
NSG is a body of 48 nations that regulates global trade in civil nuclear materials and technologies. It ensures the materials and technologies transferred to any nation aren’t diverted to developing nuclear weapons. It is said to have been created about 40 years ago as a sequel to India’s first nuclear test conducted in 1974. It isolated India from nuclear trade with the rest of the world. However, in 2008 when the Indo-US Bilateral Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed, the US facilitated lifting of the NSG trade restrictions against India. The NSG waiver to India was granted in September 2008 after an intense debate. The participating countries took note of India’s nuclear-related activities and appreciated its commitments to non-proliferation over all these years including the 20 years between India’s first nuclear test in 1974 and the latter in 1998 while it had definitely possessed the nuclear arsenal. The NSG was satisfied and convinced that India would finalise the separation plan for its civilian nuclear facilities that shall be open to the IAEA safeguards and would accept the Additional Protocol. The NSG was further appreciative of India’s gesture of voluntary moratorium on further nuclear testing and assurances for harmonisation of its export regulations with the NSG guidelines. India’s pledge of “no-first-use” (NFU) of its nuclear weapons was unique since no other country except China had ever announced or even intended such a policy. The NSG waiver has thus opened opportunities for India to acquire nuclear technology and materials from other countries mostly on bilateral partnership for use in its civilian activities under full-scale IAEA safeguards. It will also encourage transfer of nuclear technologies from India to other third world countries.
It is a cruel truth that despite all the international efforts, talks and treaties in the last five decades, the world has failed to get rid of nuclear weapons. On the contrary, India, Pakistan and recently DPRK have openly joined the club and there are many others sitting on the fence with full nuclear weapon capabilities.
In this game of developing nuclear weapons India has not indulged in any dubious/clandestine activity and its programme has been developed solely by years of hard work indigenously. By this single act India has shown that developing a credible nuclear weapons programme through honest and civilian means is possible for any country having high-level scientific manpower and materials.
By declaring a voluntary moratorium on further underground nuclear tests India has effectively acted in sense and spirit of NPT/CTBT provisions. By steering its programme only as a minimum deterrence and pledging NFU unless faced with an attack of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), India has established itself as a responsible nuclear state. The same may not be held for her western neighbour given all that has appeared in the Press over the decades. Thus India’s nuclear doctrine is unique. It is non-offensive, non-proliferative and only for deterrence unlike that of many Western powers. For instance, under the current policy, the US shall not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that have accepted the NPT and have continued to adhere to its provisions. For the other states that may not be eligible for this assurance, the US may use nuclear weapons in circumstances to defend its vital interests and that of allies and partners. The UK’s policy is to use nuclear weapons also against rouge nations if the British troops there are threatened with WMD. It is believed that in 1999 NATO rejected an NFU proposal from Germany.
Besides India, China alone declared to the UN General Assembly in 1972 that under no circumstances it will be the first to use nuclear weapons. The leader of the Chinese delegation proposed that if the US and Soviet Union truly wanted disarmament, they should commit not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. India echoed it when its PM said on April 2: “More and more voices are speaking out today that the sole function of nuclear weapons, while they exist, should be to deter a nuclear attack. If all states possessing nuclear weapons recognise that this is so and are prepared to declare it, we can quickly move to the establishment of a global no-first use norm.” On the contrary, Pakistan has publicly declared to have directed its nuclear weapons solely against India.
The most pragmatic and intelligent solution will be not on denying India NSG membership but on opening the membership to any responsible state that might have a consistently proven record of nuclear maturity; that must have acquired high-level expertise in safe utilisation of nuclear technologies; mastered effective control of the associated consequences of its civilian usage and prepared to accept full-scale IAEA safeguards. India’s nuclear doctrine is non-proliferation-oriented and is both sensible and responsible. Having accepted IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol and having effectively subscribed to and practised the principles of non-proliferation, it is immaterial if India has formally signed the NPT, CTBT or any other such treaty. India has already acquired high-level expertise in the peaceful use of nuclear energy in industry, power, agriculture and health care. India’s membership of the NSG shall not only benefit it but also encourage civil nuclear trade globally without compromising on world peace and harmony.
The author is a practising lawyer and a retired scientist formerly with BARC, Mumbai, and IAEA, Vienna.