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28 June, 2016

Power play dashes NSG hopes

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has none to blame except himself for the embarrassment caused by the failure of India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group last week. He had unwisely upped the ante ahead of the NSG plenary at Seoul by personally lobbying at a few world capitals, including Washington.

President Barack Obama pledged US support to India’s admission, and the government fed the media with reports that Modi had won over all the countries he had wooed. However, 10 countries blocked the path by raising objections based on India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They were in a minority but under the NSG rules another country can be admitted only if all 48 existing members agree.

Some analysts have suggested that the US did not work hard enough to ensure India’s admission. They point out that the US assigned comparatively low level diplomats to lobby for India. They contrast this with the direct intervention of President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to secure a one-time waiver for India from the NSG regulations when it signed the civilian nuclear deal with the US in 2008.

Officially India blamed China, without naming it, for the failure of its membership bid. But countries like Switzerland, Brazil and South Africa, which were among the objectors, cannot be accused of acting at China’s behest. Switzerland had reportedly offered support when Modi visited that country but opposed it at the plenary. Brazil and South Africa, along with China, are India’s BRICS partners.

As India’s NSG campaign was gaining ground, Pakistan, which, too, has conducted nuclear tests and refused to sign the NPT, also applied for membership. Claiming to be on par with India, it argued that country-specific exemption from NPT conditions would have negative impact in South Asia. China endorsed this argument.

India refuted Pakistan’s parity claim. It pointed out that while India had scrupulously adhered to the non-proliferation principle, Pakistan was known to have made available nuclear knowhow to other countries.

On his way to Seoul to pursue India’s application, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar stopped at Beijing to soften China’s opposition. Modi who met President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit at Tashkent, Uzbekistan, urged him to take a fair and objective view of India’s credentials. But these efforts were of no avail.

The Seoul setback does not spell the end of India’s bid. The NSG has named Argentinian diplomat Rafael Grossi to hold consultations with member countries on the issue.

What has dashed India’s hopes is power play. China’s stated position is that it is not against India’s entry but wants norms laid down for admission of non-NPT members. Evidently it wishes to hold India down at the same level as Pakistan, its all-weather friend.

Writing in the Chinese Communist Party’s English language tabloid Global Times, Fu Xiaoqiang, Director of the Institute of Security and Arms Control, said Beijing could support India’s NSG entry if it “plays by rules”. He went on to make clear what exactly he meant by playing by rules.

He said entry into NSG would make India a legitimate nuclear power. During Modi’s last visit, the US had recognised India as a major defence partner, and this meant the US was now treating it as a military ally.

He added, “Against the backdrop of Washington’s accelerated pace of promoting its pivot to the Asia Pacific region, it will be highly likely to keep supporting New Delhi’s nuclear ambitions in order to make it a stronger power to contain China.”

Beijing, he added, welcomed New Delhi playing a role as a major power in global governance and could support its path towards NSG if it stuck to its policy of independence and self-reliance.

Obviously what stands in the way is China’s perception that India has joined hands with the US against it. At home, too, there are critics who view with disfavour Modi’s willingness to align India closely with the US even as a multipolar world is emerging, which will end its status as the sole superpower.

One of the driving forces behind Modi’s NSG fixation is the desire to expand nuclear capability for civil and possibly military purposes. However, even those who share his nuclear ambitions doubt if NSG membership is important at this stage. According to former Atomic Energy Commission chairman MR Srinivasan not being a member of the NSG will not hamper the civil nuclear programme as India has signed agreements with several countries under the 2008 NSG waiver. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 28, 2016.

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