A new draft proposal circulated among Nuclear Suppliers Group member states early this month could pave the way for India to become a member of the elite club, but this is unlikely to happen before the end of the Obama presidency next month.
The American push for India to become a full-fledged member of the NSG would now have to be pursued by the incoming Trump Administration as the outgoing Obama Administration is unlikely to fulfill its promise made to the Modi Government before its term expires January 20, informed sources said. A draft formula for NSG membership to countries like India and Pakistan that are not a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was submitted by Rafael Mariano Grossi, the former NSG Chair, who prepared the report on behalf of South Korea, the current NSG chair.
According to Arms Control Association (ACA), a Washington-based think-tank who has been a fierce opponent of India-US civil nuclear deal and India’s membership to NSG, the two-page draft formula proposes “nine general commitments” that non-NPT countries like India and Pakistan “would need to make” in order to receive the “fullest” atomic trading privileges. Slamming the draft proposal for “lowering the bar”, Daryl G Kimball of ACA observed that this could pave the way for India becoming a NSG member as it already fulfills all these nine criteria outlined in the draft proposal, which was informally discussed by NSG members in Vienna this month.
Informed sources in the US Government told PTI that the current “time-line” does not ensure India’s membership under the Obama Administration, for which it had tried hard, but for the Chinese “resistance” in this regard.
As such, India’s NSG membership, an unfinished agenda of the India-US relationship of the outgoing US President would now have to be taken up by his successor Donald Trump. While the civil nuclear deal was an initiative of a Republican Administration, George W Bush, the incoming Trump Administration has not made any public comment in this regard.
The issue is, however, believed to have come up for discussion during the initial phase of contacts that top Indian officials have established with the presidential transition team. Revealing details of the nine-point formula for non-NPT States to become a NSG members, ACA says that interested countries should have implemented and have brought into force a clear and strict separation of current and future civilian nuclear facilities from non-civilian nuclear facilities in [non-NPT applicant] and have provided and maintain a declaration to the IAEA that identifies all current and future civilian nuclear facilities in [non-NPT applicant].
It seems applicant countries to have in force a safeguards agreement with the IAEA covering all declared civilian facilities in [non-NPT applicant], and all future civilian facilities which the IAEA and [non-NPT applicant] determine are eligible for safeguards and have in force with the IAEA an Additional Protocol covering the identified civilian nuclear facilities, which together with a safeguards agreement, allows the IAEA to detect the diversion of safeguarded nuclear material and to ensure that safeguarded nuclear material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The draft-guideline seems a commitment from applicant countries not to use any item transferred either directly or indirectly from a NSG Participating Government or any item derived from transferred items in unsafeguarded facilities or activities, a commitment not to conduct any nuclear explosive test and a clear description of [non-NPT applicant] intentions plans, and policies in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty upon becoming a Participating Government.
It also seems a commitment to support and strengthen the multilateral non-proliferation and disarmament regime by working towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons and enhancing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and an understanding that due to the unique nature of the non-NPT Party applications, [non-NPT applicant] would join a consensus of all other Participating Governments on the merits of any non-NPT Party application.”
“The formula outlined in Grossi’s draft note sets an extremely low bar on NSG membership and its wording is vague and open to wide interpretation,” said Kimball, who is considered as a non-proliferation czar. “This formula would not require India to take any additional nonproliferation commitments beyond the steps to which it committed in September 2008…,” he wrote. “For example, the proposed criteria for membership would simply require that India or Pakistan describe their plan for separating civilian and military nuclear facilities, which is a step that does not necessarily guarantee civil nuclear technology transfers will not benefit the military sector, and it is a step India has already taken,” he alleged.
According to Kimball, the draft proposals takes into consideration a hypothetical Indian opposition to Pakistan’s NSG membership, which is also pending before it. The draft note proposes that one non-NPT member state “should reach an understanding not to block consensus” on membership for another non-NPT member state. “However, Pakistan still has grounds to object to the formula outlined by Grossi because it would require Pakistan to meet the same criteria for membership but, to engage in civil nuclear trade with NSG states, would have to win a separate NSG exemption from the full-scope safeguards requirement,” Kimball said.
While the draft formula is not country-specific, as it lays down the membership criteria for non-NPT States, Kimball notes “India could theoretically claim that it has already undertaken all of the steps necessary for membership, which could then lead to a decision on membership for India, while still leaving Pakistan in a different status.”