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After staying outside the international non-proliferation regimes for a few decades, India decided to embark on a new path, seeking to join the global clubs.  This journey includes gaining membership into the global export control mechanisms such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) and Australia Group (AG).  Of these four regimes, India has gained a seat at the MTCR and the process of accession into the other three is currently on.  Even as India enjoys a clean track record in the area of non-proliferation, the entry into the NSG in particular is not going to be easy, as was seen during the recent NSG Plenary in Seoul in June 2016.  The difficulties are not entirely non-proliferation driven but there are other political factors that come into play in making a decision on India.  It is not good enough that India has never engaged in nuclear non-proliferation, despite opportunity to do so, and that it has a record better than even some of the NSG members and signatories of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  India has to factor in other political dynamics and address them if there has to be a favourable decision in its favour. 


India’s Integration Process and Eligibility

The first stage of India’s integration into the international non-proliferation architecture happened when India got a clean waiver from the NSG in 2008.  This waiver allowed India to engage in nuclear commerce with the global community without putting itself through the IAEA’s full scope safeguards, an understanding applicable to all states.  This called for India to undertake a series of measures including separation of its nuclear facilities into civilian and military, signing of the safeguards agreement and ratifying the Additional Protocol to the safeguards agreement.  This completed the initial procession of India’s incorporation into the global regime. 


The second stage of integration for India is gaining an entry into the four export control regimes, which was outlined in the US-India Joint Statement issued in November 2010, during the visit of US President Barack Obama to New Delhi.[1]  This was done with the objective of both India and the US joining their efforts together in strengthening the export control regimes and the broad non-proliferation architecture. 


As for eligibility, there are certain rules and guidelines that guide the decisions regarding a new member.  As for NSG, there are five factors for consideration.  These, outlined in the NSG’s procedural arrangement, include: “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”; “adherence to one or more of the NPT, the Treaties of Pelindaba, Rarotonga, Tlatelolco, Bangkok, Semipalatinsk or an equivalent international nuclear non-proliferation agreement, and full compliance with the obligations of such agreement(s)”; and “support of international efforts towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their delivery vehicles.”[2]


India’s qualifications and meeting the eligibility have been debated at great length but the difficulties come from certain other quarters.[3] Of the five factors for consideration, India does not meet one – adherence to the NPT or any of the other international treaty mechanisms.  There are a couple of points that need to be emphasised here.  One, these factors are for consideration by the Participating Governments and not a mandated criterion.  Also, an applicant country is not required to meet all the criteria.  Two, it must be added that the factor regarding NPT says adherence to NPT and not signatory to NPT or other treaties.  Therefore, if the current Participating Governments are able to develop consensus on a particular candidate, that country can be brought in even if it does not meet all the factors.  It also needs to be understood as to why then NPT has gained such a centrality in the NSG membership decisions, which are political in nature.  Given the shortfalls in terms of the number of signatories in the 1970s and 1980s, it was felt that the NSG must go beyond the NPT. This meant that countries that were not signatories of NPT and yet had the capacity to trade in nuclear materials and technology, had to be brought under certain regime. And NSG was seen as a mechanism that could play that role. 


Why is the NSG membership important? 

In the backdrop of the Seoul Plenary, many have questioned the need for India to gain the NSG seat.  They argue that the special and clean waiver granted to India should suffice for all practical purposes and have questioned India’s rationale for the kind of diplomatic and political investment India made in the run up to the Seoul meeting.  One, from a pragmatic perspective, as India plans to increase nuclear power into the energy mix, New Delhi needs to be able to predict the viability.  This is where the rules of transaction within the NSG come into play.  For instance, in 2011, the NSG rules were altered wherein the members decided that countries that are not signatories of NPT cannot access Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technologies.  The US, Russia and France made a case for India at this point of time and said that this rule will not be applicable on India.  But in the future, there could be more revisions of the rules and New Delhi cannot expect its friends to fight its case every time.  Also it needs to be kept in mind that in future, the three who came to India’s aid in 2011 may not be powerful enough to influence a particular decision, emphasising upon the point that India should be inside NSG to safeguard its interests. 


Two, India has not played an active role so far in the global governance relating to strategic trade, but this is likely to change for a few reasons.  India being outside of these regimes, had limited capacity to influence the decisions relating to trade in strategic goods.  Thus, even on issues closer to India such as Iran and North Korea, India has had little influence in shaping the outcome. 


Three, India’s capacity to export and be a party in the global supply chains relating to nuclear and other dual use technologies is slated to go up, which should be an imperative for the NSG and other grouping to bring India within the tent.  If India were inside the tent, that also gives the members an opportunity to influence India’s decisions with regard to a particular transaction.  Currently, even without being an NSG participating government, India has played a responsible role, abiding by the NSG guidelines for transfer of items.  However, India’s decision to transfer an item will be based on its own national interests and its understanding of whether a particular transfer is responsible or not.  Four, India has to come to attach particular importance to its role as a norm shaper and its credentials in the area of global governance.  Lastly, India’s accession to the multilateral regimes will be a way of formalising India’s current practices and commitments in the area of strategic trade. 


Political Hurdles

The difficulties faced by India in gaining an entry into the NSG are not technical.  India meets all the technical qualifications for gaining an entry into the NSG but there has been no consensus on India’s potential membership, as seen in Seoul.  China has been the biggest stumbling block in materialising India’s aspirations to join the NSG.  While there have been close to a dozen other countries that have remained sceptical or have raised questions about India’s membership, they are not necessarily against India’s accession into the NSG.  There have been procedural issues such as whether the NSG should draw certain criteria first and then admit India or the other way around.  A few European countries that have been fence-sitting believe that India should take a few additional steps before it is made a member.  These additional steps include: signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), making progress on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and nuclear disarmament.  None of these are really viable because on FMCT, for instance, India, as agreed during the India-US nuclear deal, works with other countries but it is Pakistan that has been an obstructionist to the point of revising the Shannon mandate.  Nuclear disarmament is still an important part of the Indian agenda but India cannot pursue the agenda alone in the absence of an N-5 agreement on a futuristic timeline to get rid of the nuclear weapons.  In the current political atmosphere, the salience of nuclear weapons is far greater than ever before and it remains an idealistic goal, not a feasible one.  As for CTBT, it has been a dead treaty and it is unclear if it can come out of the coma that it has been for the past two decades.  The Indian position is that if the big powers were to ratify and give it a fresh lease of life, New Delhi may not be averse to it.  But there does not seem to be any political traction at this point of time for India to take it up.  If nuclear testing is a major issue for some of the European countries, they should note the voluntary moratorium that India has put in place, which is a proof of its commitment. 


China’s efforts to hamper India’s NSG accession are driven by a political agenda.  Beijing’s position is certainly not driven by the desire to uphold the non-proliferation credentials of the regime but to deny India any advantage that might accrue from NSG accession.  China’s position reflects the larger problem that exists between India and China – competition for the strategic space in Asia and beyond. 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author


[1]“Joint Statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Singh of India,” White House,

[2]“United States Communication — "Food for Thought" Paper on Indian NSG Membership,” Nuclear Suppliers Group, May 23, 2011,

[3]For details on India’s qualifications and eligibility for membership to the multilateral export control regimes, see Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Arka Biswas, “Locating India within the Global Non-Proliferation Architecture: Prospects, Challenges and Opportunities,” August 19, 2016,