A significant change has taken place in our quest to become a participant in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group [NSG]: it is now a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’. The United States, which has over the last year become an influential advocate for India’s case, believes that this will happen by the end of this year. The White House said as much after the Seoul plenary this week, where India’s membership was discussed. A final decision is awaited.
On the eve of this NSG meeting, nations like Canada which were once either wary of, or hostile to, our nuclear programme, publicly argued for our admission on a priority basis. The word used was “soonest”. This has been the refrain from Washington, London, Paris and Moscow. All the major nuclear powers, barring China, want us in.
This has not happened by accident. It is a dividend of a new development in our diplomacy: the pursuit of clear objectives with relentless vigour and self-assurance, determined by a calendar conforming to our interests rather than the sluggish movement of international norm. Multilateral bodies which require consensus on such issues have traditionally pushed problems into the open space of undefined time. It goes without saying that little suits the diplomatic calm better than the status quo. We faced institutional inertia in MTCR [Missile Technology Control Regime], and, earlier this month, overcame it with support from friends.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi challenged the NSG status quo with a careful argument that included our commitment on climate change, given at Paris last year, where we promised 40% non-fossil power generation capacity by 2030. This argument turned powerful friends into allies. They understand the logic: India is ready to do more than its bit on climate change, but the world must then support India’s participation in nuclear commerce.
The second reason is India’s record on non-proliferation. We know that China’s resistance, described as “procedural hurdles”, is its desire to protect its strategic friendship with Pakistan. Beijing’s formal contention, however, was that India must sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] before it can become a member. Why have the other nuclear powers, America, Russia, France and Britain, refused to buy this line? Because India’s track record on non-proliferation has been exemplary. There has never ever been a single whisper against India, which began building nuclear capability in the mid-1950s.
Pakistan, in contrast, has a history of proliferation. In 2002, President George Bush named Pakistan as a nuclear hotspot in his State of the Union address. The definitive book on the subject is Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark. The blurb notes that “Pakistan in fact betrayed the West, building a vast nuclear arsenal with US aid money and selling the technology to other countries while giving shelter to the resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda”. Its most famous nuclear scientist, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, nicknamed “Typhoid Murphy”, sold knowhow for cash – sometimes disguising greed in ideology. In an extraordinary dénouement, Khan was forced to acknowledge his crimes on public television on 4 February 2004. He was running a black market in nuclear technology for clients as diverse as Libya and North Korea. It was obvious that he could not have done this alone, but he was made the fall guy by the military. President Bush said: “Khan has confessed his crimes and his top associated are out of business.” This confirmed that he did have associates. Bush added, “President Musharraf has promised to share all the information he learns about the Khan network, and has assured us that his country will never again he a source of proliferation.” Even Pakistan’s President had to admit his nation’s culpability. Khan’s pay-off was both literal and physical: he was allowed to keep the cash he had made on the side, and shunted off to quiet retirement instead of prison.
Contrast this with a statement made by NSG in 2008, where the institution accepts that India has contributed to “widest possible implementation of the provisions and objectives of the Treat on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”. Nothing more needs to be said, particularly within NSG. For anyone to raise non-proliferation as an issue against India in order to protect Pakistan must be the ultimate irony, if not an outright joke. And the fact that even China’s objection was about process rather than eligibility is evidence that India’s credibility is not in question.
Diplomacy is a long game. We have delivered results quickly in matters like missile technology. Membership of NSG is only a matter of time, and not too much time either.