Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multilateral export control regime and a group of nuclear supplier countries that seek to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. 

  • NSG is a group of nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports
  • The NSG was set up as a response to India’s nuclear tests conducted in 1974.
  • The aim of the NSG is to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. 
  • The grouping has 48 participating governments and the European Commission acts as an Observer. 
  • Since 2008, India has sought membership in the NSG. The same year, the NSG granted India a "clean waiver" from its existing rules, which forbids nuclear trade with a country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). 
  • The waiver paved the way for India to engage in nuclear trade and led to the Indo-US  Civil Nuclear Deal. India has since signed civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with the U.S., U.K., France, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan,  Mongolia, Namibia, and South Korea
  • The drive for India's membership got a decisive boost when the U.S declared support for India joining the quartet of multilateral export control regimes
  • U.S proposed case for a country-specific rather than a criteria-based approach rested on the argument that India's nuclear record and commitment to non-proliferation norms qualified it as a "like-minded country" to join the NSG. 

HISTORY 

  • The NSG was founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974 and first met in November 1975.  
  • The test demonstrated that certain non-weapons specific nuclear technology could be readily turned to weapons development.  
  • Nations already signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) saw the need to further limit the export of nuclear equipment, materials or technology.  
  • Another benefit was that non-NPT and non-Zangger Committee nations, then specifically France, could be brought in.  
  • A series of meetings in London from 1975 to 1978 resulted in agreements on the  guidelines for the export
  • Listed items could only be exported to non-nuclear states if certain International Atomic  Energy Agency safeguards were agreed to or if exceptional circumstances relating to safety existed.  
  • The name of the "London Club" was due to the series of meetings in London. It has also been referred to as the London Group, or the London Suppliers Group.  
  • The NSG did not meet again until 1991.  
  • The "Trigger List" remained unchanged until 1991, although the Zangger list was regularly updated.  
  • The revelations about the Iraqi weapons program following the first Gulf War led to a  tightening of the export of so-called dual-use equipment.  

MEMBERS 

Criteria for membership: 

  • The ability to supply items (including items in transit) covered by the Annexes to Parts 1  and 2 of the NSG Guidelines; 
  • Adherence to the Guidelines and action in accordance with them; 
  • Enforcement of a legally based domestic export control system which gives effect to the  commitment to act in accordance with the Guidelines;
  • Full compliance with the obligations of one or more of the nuclear non-proliferation agreement. 
  • Support of international efforts towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their delivery vehicle. 

Functions of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) 

Nuclear Suppliers Group is a nuclear export control regime formed by a group of nuclear supplier countries which seeks to prevent nuclear proliferation by keeping control of the equipment, export material and technology, used to manufacture nuclear weapons. 

NSG had been formed by the seven nuclear countries in the year 1974. When they realised that the Non-Proliferation Treaty alone could not halt the spread of nuclear weapons, they decided to form a multilateral nuclear export control arrangement. Given below are the main functions  of NSG: 

1. Controlling the export of nuclear material, equipment and technology. 

2. Transfer of nuclear-related dual-use materials, software and related technology. 

3. Each member country must be informed about the supply, import or export of any nuclear-based product. 

4. NPT will not be the only body responsible for governing the export of nuclear products.  It will be divided between NPT and NSG. 

NSG and India 

India’s Quest for NSG Membership 

  • Since 2008, India has been trying to join the group. 
  • India submitted its membership application to the NSG in May 2016, a month before the  Seoul plenary of the Group. However, at the Seoul plenary group, India’s membership  was blocked by China 

Why does India want to become a member of NSG? 

  • India is keen to become a member of the NSG (and other export control regimes such as  the Wassenaar Agreement and Australia Group) due to various reasons: 

• Expansion of nuclear power generation: It will significantly expand its clean and green nuclear energy programme. 

• Short-comings in NSG waiver: 

▪ Although the 2008 NSG waiver allows India to engage in civilian nuclear trade with other countries, still this allows India to enter into an 

agreement with each country separately. It’s a piece-meal approach.

▪ Membership of the NSG will provide a legal foundation for India's nuclear  regime and thus greater confidence for those countries investing in  

nuclear power projects in India. 

• Nuclear export: 

▪ It will enable India’s entry in the export market in the coming years. 

▪ India would like to make effective commercial use of its nuclear expertise  in building pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) of 220 MW or 540  MW capacities as well as its possible role as a supplier of special steels,  

large size forgings, control instruments and other nuclear components  

and services. 

▪ Indigenous development of nuclear reactors got further boost with the  Indian government’s recent decision to set up 10 indigenous PHWRs of  

700 MWe capacities each. This would strengthen India’s credibility as a  

manufacturer and potential supplier of nuclear reactors that are safe and cost-effective. 

• A rule-creating nation instead of rule-adhering: Membership of NSG will move  India into the category of international rule-creating nations rather than stay in the ranks of rule-adhering nations. 

• International prestige: With its expanding international prestige and profile,  India's membership of NSG is of vital significance. 

• Integrating into the global export control regimes: Joining NSG is a part of the larger goal of getting admission into the four global export control regimes – NSG,  Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) and  Australia Group (AG). India is already a member of the MTCR. 

It will also gain India an opportunity to initiate talks about the plutonium trade for its thorium program and gain massive domestic profits. 

India aims to minimize the use of fossil fuels by 40 per cent and use more natural and renewable resources of energy. This is only possible if India gets access to the nuclear power supply. 

What are the roadblocks in India’s membership to NSG? 

  • Since all decisions at NSG (including on membership) are taken by consensus, any country, small or big, can stand in the way of a consensus. 
  • Now the majority of the countries support India’s membership (In June 2016, India became a Member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). All 34 members of MTCR  are members of the NSG. Thus India is assured of the support of these 34 members in its quest for NSG membership. China is not a member of MTCR). 
  • But China and China backed nations have openly opposed to India’s membership on  following grounds:

• Non-signatory to NPT: India is not eligible to become a member of the NSG as it is not a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), adherence to latter is necessary for membership in the former. 

• Norm-based entry: China has also averred that for non-NPT members some  definite criteria should be evolved rather than granting country-specific  

waivers. No single country waiver should be granted to India as was done in  2008. 

• Linking India’s membership with Pakistan: At other times, China has stated that  Pakistan also has similar credentials to join the NSG; and that if India is admitted,  Pakistan should also be admitted simultaneously. 

• Will fuel nuclear arms race in South Asia: If only India were to be admitted, it would disturb the nuclear-arms balance in South Asia as India will engage in a  massive nuclear weaponization programme. 

What is India’s response to Chinese apprehensions? 

According to India, most of the questions raised by China against India’s membership have little validity. 

• Grossi process: 

  1. In December 2016, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the former NSG Chair, circulated a new draft formula among Nuclear Suppliers Group member states. 
  2. Thus the draft formula proposes "nine general commitments" that non-NPT countries "would need to make" in order to receive the "fullest" atomic trading privileges. 
  3. According to analysts, India already fulfils all these nine criteria for becoming an NSG  member. 

o NPT membership is not mandatory: According to the guidelines adopted in 2001  at Aspen, membership of NPT is not a pre-condition for becoming an NSG  member. It is only a guiding principle to which consideration needs to be given. 

o Impeccable track record: If the NSG granted a waiver to India in 2008 on the basis of its past performance, then it should have no objection in admitting India as a  member because of India’s impeccable track-record in observing the provisions of the NPT and NSG, even though it has not been a member of either any of them. 

o India’s view on Pakistan’s membership to NSG: Pakistan’s credentials for NSG  membership are highly flawed and inadequate. Pakistan has a blemished and flawed proliferation record as it has engaged in illicit supply of nuclear technology and materials to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

o On nuclear arms race: Since 2008, as per its commitment, India has separated its civilian and military nuclear programmes, and put the civilian part under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. 

o India’s view on criteria-based membership: India maintains that rather than evolving criteria, its performance should be the basis of its track record. 

Causes for NSG’s denial from accepting India as a Member 

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has been in constant denial for accepting India as a  permanent member under the nuclear pact because of various reasons. Given below are a list  of causes that have led to India not being able to be a part of NSG, despite persistence: 

  1. China’s denial of offering membership to India is another major cause of India not being able to make it to the list of NSG members. 
  2. India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) yet, which is essential for countries to sign to become a member of the NSG. 
  3. Another reason is China’s interest in getting Pakistan a member of the NSG, which is also an NPT non-signatory. If Pakistan becomes a member, then no source can stop  India from becoming a member. This is the reason why both India and Pakistan are unable to become member countries of NSG, despite persistence. 
  4. Until and unless all the members do not agree with the decision, NSG is not liable to accept the invitation of any country to join NSG. All 48 members have yet not reached the consensus of letting India become an NSG member. 

Factors in favour of India’s membership 

  • France got membership in the elite group without signing the NPT. 
  • Commitment to nonproliferation: India’s commitment to bifurcate its civilian and military nuclear programs along with its nonproliferation record ensured indigenously developed technology is not shared with other countries. 
  • Transparency: India has also ratified an Additional Protocol with the International  Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which means that its civilian reactors are under IAEA safeguards and open for inspections 

What can be the way forward?  

  • Though NSG membership does not necessarily provide material benefits for India, it does assert its rights as a nuclear weapon state and allows it to be a part of the rulemaking. Besides this, it would allow India to expose Pakistan’s appalling proliferation record. 
  • It is observed that if India gets the membership, it would forever block Pakistan’s NSG  membership.  
  • If India doesn’t get the membership, it can still use the situation to keep the spotlight on  Pakistan and China. 

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor