Originally Published 2014-06-24 04:23:15 Published on Jun 24, 2014
The Indian Government's ratification on June 23 of the IAEA Additional Protocol, which is essentially a component of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, will allow the international nuclear body to monitor India's civilian nuclear programme with ease.
India's pitch for NSG membership
"India has been seeking full-membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) along with three other export-control regimes, namely the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australian and the Wassenaar Groups. NSG was established in May 1974 with the goal of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The 48-member group has set out guidelines for the export of nuclear and nuclear-related materials and technologies which are seen to be complementing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), along with several other nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) treaties. MTCR is an informal and voluntary association of countries that share the goals of non-proliferation of unmanned delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. The 41-member Wassenaar Arrangement aims to promote transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, while the Australia Group is an informal forum that aims at restricting exports related to production of chemical and biological weapons.

India’s membership of the NSG has been discussed each year since September 2008, when the group agreed to India-specific waiver, as part of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. During a visit to India in November 2010, President Barack Obama affirmed his support for Indian membership of the NSG, along with the other three export control groups. In 2011 and 2012, the group came up with identical statements on the issue, saying that "it continued to consider all aspects of the implementation of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India."

India, meanwhile, has continued to express its keenness in joining the NSG. Former Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was quoted saying, at the plenary session of the second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in 2012, that "India has never been a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies and we are determined to further strengthen our export control systems to keep them on par with the highest international standards. We have already adhered to the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime." He further added that "with the ability and willingness to promote global non-proliferation objectives, we believe that the next logical step is India’s membership of the four export control regimes." Indeed, India’s track-record has been exemplary, by virtue of which it has earned backing from the US, Russia, Australia, among other nations, in its attempt of getting a full-membership of the NSG.

Yet, efforts have been made to sabotage the possibilities of India getting a full-membership of the NSG. On June 20, 2014, IHS Jane’s, a US based defence think-tank, came up with satellite images of the Indian Rare Metals Plant (IRMP) near Mysore, in which the think-tank identified a "possible" new uranium hexafluoride plant. Experts from the think-tank have argued that the new plant will "support new centrifuges that will substantially expand India’s uranium enrichment capacity, most likely to facilitate the construction of an increased number of naval reactors to expand the country’s nuclear submarine fleet, but potentially also to support the development of thermonuclear weapons."

Three important facets of the report have to be examined. First is the case of an undeclared or covert uranium enrichment programme which the US think-tank alleges India to be operating. Indian officials have reportedly argued that "India is a declared nuclear weapon state and that it is under no obligation to restrict production." However, India has already showcased its position of restraining the expansion of its nuclear stockpile by participating in the negotiations of Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Though officials said that India will not accept a ban on the production of enriched uranium that is used for the propulsion of its nuclear submarines, they argued that the position is already known to the world and there is no need for India to run a covert enrichment programme.

Secondly, the report is based on the "possibility" of a new enrichment plant and there is, therefore, no credibility associated with the allegations that the "possible" new plant could facilitate the construction of an increased number of naval reactors to expand the country’s nuclear submarine fleet, or support the development of thermonuclear weapons. This, in fact, is the position taken by the US government over the IHS Jane’s report. The US State Department Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, called the report "speculative" and said that the US government is "not in a position to speculate" as they "do not have enough information or confirmation of the report."

Thirdly, and most importantly, the report has come out a few days prior to the NSG meetings held on June 23 in Buenos Aires, a critical time considering India’s pitch to get the Group’s full-membership. Officials in New Delhi argued that the report is intended at diverting focus off the real culprits of proliferation and noted that such reports questioning India’s nuclear credentials are planted at regular intervals."

While such efforts to sabotage the possibilities of India getting a NSG-membership have continued, India has reiterated its commitment to global non-proliferation goals and reaffirmed the seriousness with which it adheres to the same goals by ratifying the IAEA Additional Protocol on June 23. The ratification, which is essentially a component of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, will allow the IAEA to monitor India’s civilian nuclear programme with ease.

In 2009, it was an agreement over an additional protocol that brought India’s civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, which paved the way for the NSG to grant India-specific waiver for it to participate in civilian nuclear commerce. The decision to ratify the additional protocol is bound to influence the NSG members into considering Indian membership with greater intent.

(The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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