Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Let’s not make NSG a high-stakes game


Image from article, with caption: [Minister of External Affairs] Sushma Swaraj declared that China was not against India’s membership: “I think that there is a consensus which is being made and I am sure India will become a member of NSG this year. NSG entry is crucial for India.”, says Swaraj.

By engaging not only in diplomacy but also in intensive public diplomacy by going so high as to field the external affairs minister, no less, India is pointlessly raising the stakes on the acceptance of its application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the informal cartel that regulates international commerce in nuclear materials, at the group’s plenary in Seoul on June 24. Ms Sushma Swaraj, at the annual press conference of her ministry last Sunday, declared that China was not against India’s membership and held out the expectation that our application would be cleared on June 24.

The government would look positively good if this were to happen. Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar was despatched on an unpublicised mission on June 16-17 to persuade Beijing. After his return, the minister, with him by her side, expressed her belief that the Indian application was practically through. China’s reservation was on procedures, not on the substantive issue of India entering the NSG, she observed.

If the gambit of sending the foreign secretary with an urgent brief does not come off, we might collectively look a bit silly. This is not an unlikely outcome. A day after the external affairs minister’s press conference, Beijing said officially that India’s application was not on the Seoul agenda. It is evident on balance that it was not necessary to make our membership of the NSG a high-stakes game.

India loses nothing in reality if it is not admitted as member in Seoul. In 2008, it had already obtained an NSG exemption and is permitted to purchase nuclear materials internationally. Where being in the NSG would help is that it will enable Indian companies to export nuclear materials and technology officially. But that’s in the future.

As Ms Swaraj rightly observed, India has been punctilious in observing the terms of the 2008 waiver in maintaining a spotless record of non-proliferation. And this makes her case strong in the eyes of NSG members although she is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). So far, being a NPT signatory has been the inviolate rule for entry into the NSG. And this is what Beijing keeps throwing at us — the “procedures” that Ms Swaraj referred to. China is indirectly telling co-members that Pakistan’s application for NSG admission should also be considered favourably if India’s is. (New members are admitted only through consensus, not by majority vote.) This is a trap to avoid.

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