One of the main purposes behind Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 7-8 visit to Washington via Switzerland and Mexico was to push for India’s inclusion in the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Modi also wanted to underline India’s growing convergence with US’ foreign and defense policies.
Addressing the joint session of the US Congress on June 8, he said India was renouncing ‘historical hesitations’ to align itself with Washington’s foreign and defense policy directions — an announcement with far reaching implications for the US and India and the world at large, especially China and Pakistan.
US Congressional concerns over human rights violations and religious intolerance in India were “conveniently buried” during the Modi visit, says Dorothy Bly in her report on the discussions on this subject at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington.
The plenary meeting of NSG at Seoul on June 24 will consider India’s application for membership of the atomic trading group amid strong backing from US President Barack Obama and the US administration.
Modi had made four visits to Washington in the past two years as Prime Minister of India and had met President Obama seven times in the U.S. and elsewhere to lobby, among other things, for India’s NSG membership.
India’s rival Pakistan and its ambassador and other officials in Washington too are vigorously campaigning for NSG membership with the support of its close ally, China.
While professing commitment to comprehensive nuclear disarmament, India has nevertheless been developing its own nuclear arsenal on a substantive scale, says Achin Vanaik in his book After the Bomb: India’s Nuclear Journey. NSG membership would facilitate India’s efforts to build up its nuclear arsenal while focusing on civilian nuclear energy development.
However, China is opposing India’s NSG entry along with New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa, and Austria. One negative vote by any NSG member can scuttle India’s chances. China argues that India’s NSG entry would upset the nuclear balance in South Asia.
The signing of nuclear non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) 1968 confers the status of a Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) on all signatory states. Though yet to sign NPT, India perhaps thought that the 2008 US-India civil nuclear deal conferred on it recognition as a NWS.
Seeking membership of other export control regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group, is “India’s way to enhance its de jure (by law) NWS status, from a de facto (by facts) nuclear armed state,” according to Vidya Shankar Aiyar, a nuclear disarmament activist and India director of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.
The New York Times editorial on June 4, (‘No Exceptions for a Nuclear India’) raises doubts over India’s nuclear ambitions.
Aiyar believes India has not been able to convince the world about its nuclear disarmament claims. It never sought to use its 1982 UN resolution on non-use of nuclear weapons in an active manner to canvass global support.
Despite that resolution, India went on to test nuclear weapons in 1998, which affected its international credibility as a proponent of nuclear disarmament.
The 1982 UN resolution has been tabled by India every year although it made no mention of NPT which provides the political and legal foundation for international non-proliferation regime. This is the only legal document all NWS have signed to commit themselves to disarm in the long run. Clearly, India’s ‘non-use’ UN resolution appears rhetorical.
According to Aiyar, India refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) out of pique rather than any genuine concern about subcritical testing. Most other NWS have signed the CTBT. India has even less reason today not to sign and ratify than it had in 1996.
Commenting on Pakistan’s bid for NSG, the bipartisan US Congressional Research Service expresses concern over the possible radical takeover of the Pakistani government (by military) or diversion of material or technology by personnel within Pakistan’s nuclear complex. Continued political instability in that country could impact the nuclear safeguards.
The report says the Obama administration could back Pakistan’s NSG membership application without Congressional approval in exchange for its actions to reduce perceived dangers associated with the country’s nuclear weapons program.
While noting that Pakistan, in recent years, has taken a number of steps to increase international confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal, the report says instability in Pakistan has called into question the extent and durability of these reforms.
A review of the South Asian security scenario after the nuclearization of India and Pakistan in 1998 lists three events: the Kargil war of 1999; ‘Operation Parakram’ (2001-2002) by India in the wake of the terrorist attack on its Parliament on December 13, 2001; and terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008.
A nuclear clash between Indian and Pakistan during Kargil war and ‘Operation Parakram’ was averted through US intervention.
The Lahore visit of former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee in February 1999 preceded the Kargil attack by just a few months and it was necessitated by the nuclearization of South Asia (in Pokhran II in India and in Chagai in Pakistan in May 1988). The Kargil attack upset the Lahore peace process and denied Vajpayee what could have been a historic success.
Attempt by then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to tackle the Kashmir tangle in 2001 too came to naught because of India’s lack of trust in Pakistan following the Kargil incident.
After the end of ‘Operation Parakram’ in late 2002, there was a complete lack of coherence among top Indian nuclear elites as to what the operation had achieved or not achieved. Since then, there has been a triangulation of conflict in South Asia involving India-Pakistan-US and India-China-US, according Vanaik.
The Indo-US nuclear deal under the Congress party regime in New Delhi (2004 and 2009) produced considerable confusion among Indian nuclear elites.
The Modi regime, which came to power in May 2014, has revealed a series of disturbing inconsistencies in its behavior toward Pakistan.
In the final analysis, inclusion of India and Pakistan in NSG can only lead to aggravation of nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan.
- Aiyar, Vidya Shankar, 2016 ‘India’s NSG Bid: Too much Diplomacy, too Little Action’ Hindustan Times, June 8 2016, accessed on June 17, 2016
- Vanaik, Achin, ‘After the Bomb: India’s Nuclear Journey’, 2015, Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi
(The writer is a former Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi. He is the author of ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India’ Routledge, 2016)