India Stokes Nuclear Weapon Concern in Bid for Atomic Cartel

  • Nuclear Suppliers Group convenes for consultations in Vienna
  • Arms control advisers warn against giving India exemptions

India’s bid to join the elite club of nations that control nuclear trade continues to stoke concern among arms-control advisers, who warn that membership may undermine rules designed to cap the spread of atomic weapons.

Members of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group meet this week in Vienna to discuss nine general commitments India and other countries outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty would need to make in order to receive the fullest atomic trading privileges, according to a two-page document prepared for the meeting and seen by Bloomberg News. The meetings are informal and a official plenary won’t be convened, according to an NSG spokesman.

“The formula outlined in the draft note sets an extremely low bar on Nuclear Supplier Group membership and does not require India to take any additional non-proliferation commitments,” according to Daryl Kimball, executive director at the Arms Control Association, a non-partisan policy group based in Washington.

The remaining concerns over India’s nuclear program means that U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to bring New Delhi into the NSG is likely to go unfulfilled. In a June meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington, Obama repeated that the world’s second-most-populous nation was ready to join the nuclear mainstream. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter pleading with skeptics to let India into the group.

The NSG was created in response to India’s 1974 atomic bomb test that challenged the credibility of laws written to prohibit nuclear proliferation. Its network of diplomats, customs and trade officials are supposed to prevent the unauthorized transfer of nuclear materials and technologies that could be used in weapons.

“China is the principal opponent in the NSG on India’s membership,” said Tariq Rauf, the director of disarmament and arms control at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in an e-mail. “Traditional nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament supporters such as Austria, Ireland and New Zealand are resisting growing pressure from India, the U.S. and others.”

Because NSG decisions are taken by consensus, a minority of members could block India’s bid to join. After months of wrangling in 2008, India won NSG trade exemptions -- without being granted full membership -- giving it access to advanced reactor technologies. Obama began the U.S. campaign to make India a member in 2010.

Diplomats have said they’re concerned that admitting India before strengthening the NSG eligibility requirements would weaken the rules for other non-recognized nuclear-weapons states to join. Pakistan, India’s neighbor and regional rival, has also submitted an application to join the NSG, according to the envoys.

"We continue to remain engaged and hopeful for an early decision," Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

The draft commitments that India and Pakistan would need to make to eventually join the NSG are also soft in the area of nuclear tests, according to the Arms Control Association. Neither country would need to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the accord which outlaws atomic tests.

“If the NSG fails to establish that signature of the CTBT is one of the key criteria for membership, its participating governments will have squandered an opportunity,” Kimball said. “The NSG will have lost an opportunity to enforce the global norm against nuclear testing.”

The following nine points will be discussed this week in Vienna in relation to India’s bid to join the NSG:

  • Do “clear and strict separation of current and future civilian nuclear facilities from non-civilian nuclear facilities” exist?
  • Do documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency identify “all current and future civilian nuclear facilities?”
  • Is there an adequate IAEA safeguards agreement “covering all declared civilian nuclear facilities and all future civilian nuclear facilities?”
  • Is there a so-called Additional Protocol in effect giving IAEA inspectors the ability “to detect the diversion of safeguarded nuclear material and to ensure that safeguarded nuclear material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes?”
  • Is there “a commitment not to use any item transferred either directly or indirectly from a NSG Participating Government” for military purposes?
  • Is there adequate “commitment not to conduct any nuclear explosive test?
  • Will there be adequate “support of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty upon becoming” an NSG member?
  • How will support be given to “strengthen the multilateral nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime by working towards the total elimination of all nuclear weapons and enhancing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy?”
  • The understanding that should India eventually gain NSG access, it “would join a consensus of all other Participating Governments on the merits of any additional non-NPT Party applications” like that of Pakistan.
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