Event Reports

India can do without NSG membership, says expert


India doesn’t need to pursue membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) so vehemently as the waiver given to India in 2008 allows for trade in civilian nuclear power, import of nuclear power reactors and fuel under International Atomic Energy (IAEA) safeguards. And, there is no  hindrance for the expansion of India’s nuclear power programme, according to Mr. L. V. Krishnan, former official of Kalpakkam Atomic Research Centre.

Initiating an interaction on ”India and NSG” at the Chennai centre of the Observer Research Foundation on June 25, 2016, Mr. Krishnan, a former Director (Health and Safety) at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, felt that there was not much to gain from seeking the NSG membership. When the NSG members, including China, realise that India has a huge trade potential, they will automatically come around someday, and hence there is no point in India approaching them, he said.

Mr. Krishnan explained the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Zangger Committee (aka nuclear exports committee). The Zangger Committee was formed in 1971 to achieve the aspects of non-proliferation. It was however seen as insufficient when India tested in 1974. Later, the members in the Zangger committee came together and formed the NSG in 1975. Although it was not explicitly formed to contain India, it was a mutually agreed reason to do so.

The Indian story

Mr. Krishnan stated that India was sounded out on joining the NSG in early 1990’s, but declined the offer as it wanted to test a second time, this time for its weapons programme. The tests happened in 1998. In the 2001, the NSG began dialogue to get China, India and Pakistan onboard. India obtained the one-time waiver in 2008 because of our deft diplomacy and heavy-lifting by the US.

During his visit to India in 2010, US President Barack Obama affirmed support for India’s entry into the NSG and three other groups (MTCR, Australia and Wassenaar Arrangements). In 2011, the NSG excluded transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology related material to India.

Mr. Krishnan also pointed out that India had complied with the considerations required for NSG membership. As much, or more than signing the NPT, India observes full adherence to the many of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone treaties and full compliance with their obligations. Adherence doesn’t require a nation having to be a signatory to the treaty, he said. France had entered the NSG without signing the NPT. Moreover these are only considerations and are politically flexible. He also explained that India has an impeccable record in Non Proliferation and Export Control.

Broader plan

India’s interest in joining the NSG is part of a broader plan. India doesn’t wish to be seen as an exporter of biological, nuclear, chemical material and sensitive technologies, Mr. Krishnan said. He also stated that  in its time, India can set up locally-designed pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRS) in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka and offer services in decommissioning and waste management. However, there doesn’t seem to be much movement on this, he noted.

On the Westinghouse deal for AP-1000 nuclear power reactors, he said that it is wrong to construe it as a quid pro quo for seeking US support. It has no relation with India seeking membership to the NSG, he stated.

Responding to a query on safety of the AP1000 reactors, Mr. Krishnan pointed out that there are no safety problems in the reactors. Those who talk about safety each time such reactors are to be installed are either devoid of the required knowledge or are deliberately trying to scuttle the process by spreading hysteria, he said.

On the liability issue, there is still no clarity and local suppliers are keenly looking at the Westinghouse deal to get through, before taking the next step, he said.

Seoul plenary

On the NSG plenary in Seoul held on June 23 and 24, 2016 which ended inconclusively on India’s membership, Mr. Krishnan pointed out that few member countries felt that the separation of civil and military nuclear activities of India has been inadequate, thereby leading to difference of opinion. India could not obtain unanimous consent as some countries had raised certain objections.

China has very openly stated its resistance to India’s entry right from the beginning, he said. China’s insistence that India sign the NPT is a non starter, as that would amount to surrendering the stock of N-weapons which India strongly objects to. It also doesn’t acknowledge any single country waiver and calls for appropriate criteria for entry of non NPT States. China has also said that if the Nuclear weapon stockpile of India increases, it could disturb stability and affect balance of power in South Asia.

On Turkey’s opposition, Mr. Krishnan pointed out that although Turkey is a key ally of Pakistan, it was at China’s prodding that Turkey took a stand against India. China sells reactors to Turkey and both have strong economic relations. China leveraged this to its advantage, he pointed out.

Pakistan’s case

Mr. Krishnan said that members’ actions prior to joining the NSG are not liable to scrutiny. China, taking advantage of this, has been citing prior commitments and building reactors in Pakistan. This is in direct contravention of international law, he pointed out.

He opined that Pakistan was simply following India than trying to lead. Pakistan wants to seek parity with India. However, Pakistan needs a lot of preparatory work to be done. The US, he said, was trying to get India, Pakistan and China onboard the NSG and has been helping Pakistan in improving its export control facilities.

Mr. Krishnan was also against the idea that India was trying to gain NSG membership to prevent Pakistan from entering it. Doing so would portray India in bad light in international circles, he warned.

On a question as to how really would Pakistan benefit from NSG membership, Mr. Krishnan stated that it helps in securing access to sensitive technologies, as reactors built by China have only Chinese components and technology. It also gives them a feeling of enjoying equal status with India, he said.

Way forward

Mr. Krishnan felt that seeking excess support from the US may not be a good idea as we may then become beholden to US interests. He, however, stated that if NSG membership is to be seen as a priority issue, then it is important to engage the current administration, as the new President may not show the same enthusiasm.

He also said that additional steps must be taken to reassure the ‘holdout nations’ by further separation of civil and military facilities.

This report is prepared by Arjun Sundar, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.