Why is Pakistan against Indian NSG membership

You can't get rid of the atomic spirits

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is ineffective unless you try to restrict the diffusion of nuclear technology. A club of 48 countries, including Switzerland, is trying to do this.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty allows the peaceful use of nuclear power, but limits the construction and acquisition of nuclear weapons to a small club of states. In a world in which more and more countries want to build nuclear power plants and thus knowledge and know-how that can also be used to build nuclear weapons are spreading, it is difficult to distinguish between civil and military uses. This requires, among other things, export controls and international agreements on nuclear deals. To this end, 48 supplier countries of the relevant technologies have joined forces in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which recently met in Buenos Aires for its annual meeting. Switzerland also belongs to this group.

A cartel

Many developing countries accuse the NSG participants of forming a cartel of technology owners. The group replies to these allegations by pointing out that ensuring the purely peaceful use of supplies is the basic requirement in order to be able to provide support in the development of civilian nuclear programs at all. In addition, the NSG members endeavor to reduce mistrust through transparency.

Against the background of the spread of nuclear technology and other modern, non-nuclear technologies with possible applications in the construction of nuclear weapons, the NSG is faced with the question of whether to expand its membership. In order to prevent export controls from becoming a battle against windmills, it would in fact be advisable in principle to include all states that are capable of nuclear exports. Even today, however, joint resolutions often only come about after lengthy negotiations; they would presumably be made even more difficult by an expanded membership. Furthermore, the inclusion of countries with insufficient implementation of export controls could lower the current high standard of application of the NSG guidelines.

The main point of contention at the meeting in the Argentine capital was the question of whether India's request for admission should be granted. The relationship with the nuclear power of India, which is not a member of the non-proliferation treaty, has been causing explosives within the NSG for years. At the initiative of the USA, an exception clause for nuclear exports to India was passed in September 2008 by the plenum of the Nuclear Suppliers Group after a long debate. Nuclear technology can now be delivered to India. The prerequisite for this was that India separated its civil from its military nuclear program and made the former available to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for inspection. This is to ensure that nuclear supplies are only used in the peaceful part of the Indian nuclear program.

With two dimensions

Now India wants to go one step further and become a member of the NSG. Economic aspects are decisive for this. Membership in relevant export control regimes would make it easier for the economically expanding India to access sensitive technologies in the future. To ensure a good mood before the meeting in Buenos Aires, Delhi had announced a few days earlier that it wanted to ensure more transparency in its nuclear sector. To this end, it will put an additional protocol to its agreements (safeguards) with the IAEA into force. Safeguards provide for more comprehensive reporting obligations with regard to all aspects, including research and development of a nuclear program, as well as further access rights for the IAEA inspectors. However, the additional protocol would only apply to the civil, not the military, part of the Indian nuclear program.

For an Indian NSG membership it can be asserted that an important potential exporter would be integrated into the regime. The nuclear powers USA, France, Great Britain and Russia also support India's wish to join because they have an economic interest in a flourishing nuclear trade with India.

Other NSG members, however, are critical of India's membership. They argue that doing so would decouple non-proliferation treaty membership from NSG membership and weaken the treaty. Unless India renounces its nuclear weapons - and there is currently nothing to suggest abandoning it - it cannot join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NSG membership of an unofficial nuclear weapon owner would, however, provoke the already rampant displeasure of many non-nuclear weapon states. A number of them urge the industrialized countries to use two standards. On the one hand, countries are denied access to economically important technologies. On the other hand, India is being courted as a nuclear weapon state that evades nuclear disarmament and arms control. The greatest resistance to Indian NSG membership comes from China. Beijing sees its protégé Pakistan - also a nuclear power outside the non-proliferation treaty - at a disadvantage compared to its arch-rival India. It is therefore by no means interested in a further diplomatic upgrading of Delhi in the course of NSG membership.

Epic discussions

China itself is the cause of serious problems. Beijing is supplying two nuclear reactors to Pakistan. Beijing justifies these nuclear exports with a "grandfather clause": It signed the relevant contracts with Islamabad before joining the NSG in 2004. However, this declaration is not approved by all members. Rather, they accuse China of undermining the group's work with its actions.

Overall, the greatest success of the NSG is to have made a contribution at least to delaying the spread of materials and technologies that can also be used to build atomic bombs. Essentially, the export agreements are based on the application of two lists. A first includes nuclear goods such as nuclear reactors and related equipment including non-nuclear materials and facilities for reprocessing, uranium enrichment, nuclear material conversion, nuclear fuel rod manufacture and heavy water production. A second list includes objects and technologies that can be used in both nuclear and non-nuclear sectors and which could be important for a nuclear weapons program.

If an NSG state refuses to export certain goods to a third country, this information should be transmitted to all group members so that nuclear importers cannot play off the members against each other. In addition, important information is exchanged between the members via networks and intermediaries who try to undermine the export controls.

Over the years, the members of the group have tightened their export controls again and again. In the course of the IAEA inspections after Operation Desert Storm at the beginning of the 1990s, it became apparent that Saddam Hussein had built up a very advanced nuclear weapons program by importing goods that could be used for civilian and military purposes. This knowledge had a great influence on the work of the NSG. In 1993, its members stipulated that listed goods should only be delivered to countries that put their nuclear activities fully under the supervision of the IAEA. In 2004 the group went one step further. Since then, exports of goods that are not on any list have also been banned if they go to countries suspected of having an illegal nuclear weapons program.

The NSG members discussed the tightening of export control measures for ten years. Above all, technologies that can be used in two ways were controversial. On the one hand, uranium enrichment or reprocessing are components of a complete nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes. They can also be used just as well to produce the raw materials for building atomic bombs: highly enriched uranium and plutonium. An agreement was finally reached in 2011. According to this, sensitive technologies should only be delivered if certain criteria are met. Prerequisites are the membership of the recipient country in the non-proliferation treaty and compliance with the agreement with the IAEA.

Oliver Thränert heads the think tank at the Center for Security Policy at ETH Zurich; Matthias Bieri is a research assistant there.