There is a possibility of a special Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary session in the coming months spotlighting the membership issue of the non-NPT states. Several dynamics could be weighed out in this regard: the criteria issue, the evolving global nuclear order, the south Asian strategic stability, the regional strategic environment all would have an impact on the South Asia’s nuclear future mainly. Along with this the P-5 state’s guarding behavior and the global nonproliferation norms would also be questioned directly.
The constant NSG debate on the possible inclusion of non-NPT states is gaining momentum, with some opposing the membership, while others suggesting criteria to accommodate non-NPT signatories into the NSG fold. Since India and Pakistan have formally applied, India could not succeed in getting into the group in the recent plenary despite hard efforts by a few states. Without doubt, if India alone is allowed to become a member of the NSG while Pakistan remains outside, this would not only undermine global nonproliferation norms but cause countries like Pakistan to question the value of engaging with the nonproliferation regime.
Though Pakistan’s ongoing political and diplomatic efforts are intended to create space for itself in the NSG, it does qualify for civil nuclear trade in legal terms. While submitting its application for NSG membership, Pakistan outlined its credentials such as harmonization of its export control lists with those of the international export control regimes, its efforts to ensure nuclear security and safety, and its adherence to NSG guidelines. Thus, the induction of Pakistan would be a step towards strengthening the global nonproliferation regime.
Even though Pakistan wishes to be included in the NSG cartel on the basis of merit, it also wants to draw attention to the issue of discrimination in the group’s membership. India is being treated on favorable terms, with laws amended and waivers granted to accommodate it. This despite the fact that India’s diversion of nuclear material and equipment for the so-called peaceful explosion of 1974 was the prime reason behind the creation of the NSG. It was created to prevent the diversion of nuclear material from civilian trade to military purposes, with seven suppliers of advanced nuclear technology, i.e. United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan, West Germany, and Soviet Union, getting together to form a cartel to control nuclear technology supplied for peaceful uses. India violated its obligations with Canada, diverting plutonium from the Canadian-Indian reactor that was being run by U.S. heavy-water, which was provided purely for peaceful purposes.
If India is brought into the NSG and Pakistan is left out, it would be another act of discrimination based on short-sighted commercial and strategic interests. India has not fulfilled its major commitments given to the United States as part of the 2005 civil nuclear deal such as working for the conclusion of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) and separating its military and civilian reactors. Yet, it is again being considered for exceptional treatment. Contrary to its promise that it will work towards the conclusion of FMCT, India has not even considered unilateral moratorium to freeze its fissile material production. According to a recent report by the Belfer Center, India seems to have done the opposite, and expanded its fissile material production capacity. Instead of discouraging India, the United States and other major suppliers that have entered into nuclear cooperation agreements with it are pleading India’s case for NSG membership.
In view of the strong opposition from several countries, it is likely that both India and Pakistan may not be accepted into the NSG in the immediate future. However, if the United States once again coerces the NSG participating governments, as it did in 2008, Pakistan would not have any choice but to review its engagement with the international nonproliferation regime, which is increasingly becoming a tool to serve only the interests of major powers.
After the India-specific NSG exemption in 2008, India reportedly began a massive expansion of its nuclear program, including military facilities. It is believed that since civilian facilities were supplied with foreign fuel, India had the option of using its indigenous stockpiles for military purposes. This seems to have helped India’s bomb-making potential, and has disturbed regional balance. Pakistan should continue to take measures to ensure that strategic stability is maintained, without getting into an arms race.
The other option for Pakistan could be to start a diplomatic campaign to convince the NSG members of its needs and capabilities, and simultaneously highlight India’s non-adherence of the promises made as part of the nuclear deal with the United States. Pakistan should continue nuclear cooperation with China, while also focusing on economic development to attract other nuclear vendors to explore commercial benefits in the country. Last but not the least, Pakistan can wait for a more appropriate time to secure membership, while it continues to pursue a normative approach to international nonproliferation efforts.
Though Pakistan desires NSG membership, it arguably applied this time mostly in response to India’s application. From Pakistan’s perspective, it could well have applied later, but standing up to discrimination is important. Indian entry into the “London club” would be a destabilizing factor for South Asian security as Pakistan will be kept out once India gets in, and it will have negative fallout on the nonproliferation regime at the international level. Also, despite the eagerness of the United States, there are still some states opposing India’s NSG induction, and the group takes decisions by consensus. Hence, for Pakistan, things would continue the same way, and the status quo would be maintained. The NSG should not walk away from its founding principles.