Delhi and the nuclear regime

In recent years, specifically after the civil nuclear deal with the US, India seemed to have emerged with a validated nuclear identity and was seen as being on the right side of the nuclear regime.This was a result of intense negotiations and particularly a great deal of effort put in by the George W. Bush administration that not only acknowledged India’s so-called “responsible nuclear behaviour” but also endorsed it.The result was specific exemptions from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and in fact a ‘clean waiver’ was granted to India in 2008. The approval was based on a formal pledge by India, stating that it would not share sensitive nuclear technology or material with others and will uphold its voluntary moratorium on testing nuclear weapons.

Although, this harmonised India’s relation with the NSG, it was not enough to allow India to enjoy the benefits of being an NSG member such as automatic approval of licences of items controlled under its guidelines.Therefore, this was followed by India’s expressed intentions to upgrade from a second-class membership to being a full NSG member. In the US-India joint statement of November 2010, President Barack Obama affirmed the US intention to support India’s full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes including the NSG in a phased manner called for consultation with members to “encourage the evolution of regime membership criteria, consistent with maintaining the core principles of these regimes”.  Yet after its most recent meeting in the Netherlands, the NSG pointed to “strengthening” its guidelines and norms on transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies (ENR).

This has not gone down well with India and there has been much debate around it in the country. However, it is important to note that the NSG text issued after the meeting remains ambiguous about the ‘criterion’ and in what form it has decided to ‘strengthen’ its guidelines, and this position of the NSG has been argued as being problematic for India.However, this has also been followed by statements from the US, France and Russia that have categorically maintained that the ENR trade with India would be unaffected by any “NSG ban on ENR transfer”. These nations along with other NSG members involved in potential nuclear trade with India have stated their support for the NSG clean waiver granted to India.While this now requires India to engage bilaterally with individual NSG nations, it is important to take note that NSG guidelines are not legally binding. Ultimately it depends on interpretation.

The non-proliferation regime rests on three main institutions: the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) and the NSG. While recent debates have centered on the NSG discussions, they tend to overlook the high moral burden that the NPT poses on the international community of which only three nations remain outside it: India, Pakistan and Israel, as countries that are non-NPT signatories.
Either way, the future course of the NSG decision will imply and direct towards a more important question: whether India is really an exception or a liability for the non-proliferation regime and its norms. – Khaleejnews