If international relations is a game of chess, then India is caught in the middle of a vicious battle between king and queen. As the country lobbies to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), countries on both sides are coming out vocally. India’s attempt to join the group was stymied at a recent NSG plenary meeting, meaning it will attempt again in 2017.
India’s History with the NSG
The NSG was founded in 1974 after a nuclear test by India. It is a group of 48 nuclear supplier countries who aim to block nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of things that can be used to make nuclear weapons, including materials, equipment, and technology.
The roots of the NSG really go back to 1970, when dozens of countries signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to promote peace and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It is known as one of the most powerful weapons agreements in history because more countries have agreed to and followed the NPT than any other document. Of the members of the United Nations, only four countries haven’t signed the NPT: India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan; all countries except South Sudan are believed to have nuclear weapons. The NSG was created by signees of the NPT as a way to extend their control over nuclear weapons.
India has long been interested in joining the NSG, but it increased its efforts lately. Indian membership would allow the country to greatly increase its exports and expand its nuclear power generation, both of which would be huge boons to the country’s economy.
China has been persistent in opposing India’s NSG entry. Its main reason is that India has refused to sign the NPT, a requirement China claims was originally agreed upon by the international community.
“If exceptions are allowed here or there on the question of NPT, the international non-proliferation will collapse altogether,” said Wang Qun, director of China’s department of arms control.
China isn’t alone in wanting to leave India out of the NSG; New Zealand, Ireland, and Austria also oppose the move. At a recent NSG meeting in Seoul, South Korea, China led the delegation opposing India’s entry. Although the majority of countries support India, China’s vocal opposition essentially ended the discussion. Per the NSG bylaws, all 48 members must agree to allow a new member. Pakistan is also trying to gain entry to the NSG, which China supports. However, if India is granted access, it would block the admission of Pakistan, which would be a loss for China.
For Japan and the United States
Conversely, Japan is a big supporter of India’s entry and is working with the country to plead its case.
Although many Japanese officials say they want India to sign the NPT, they say it isn’t a decision that should keep them away from the NSG. According to many Japanese officials, China has already violated the NSG and the NPT by supplying nuclear technology to Pakistan; therefore, following China’s own rules, it shouldn’t be allowed to stay a member of the NSG.
The United States has also repeated its commitment to include India in the NSG, calling the country an “anchor of stability” in the Asia-Pacific region. President Obama has been a long-time supporter, originally calling for India to enter in 2010.
“We regret, in Seoul we and India, were unable to open space necessary to allow India to move into the NSG at this moment,” said U.S. undersecretary for political affairs Tom Shannon, who added that the U.S. wants India to play a larger role in the Indian Ocean, especially in regard to militant countries gaining access to nuclear weapons.
Other countries that have long been supportive of India joining the NSG include France, Russia, Canada, and the U.K., with a total of 32 supportive countries. Switzerland, which will host the next NSG plenary meeting, hopes to steer the agenda towards the inclusion of India.
With India being denied entry to the NSG, the nuclear status quo essentially stays the same. By the time the NSG members come to vote on its membership again in a year, the global stage could look very different, changing India’s chances of entry.