WASHINGTON: The Nuclear Sup­pliers Group’s 2016 annual plenary, which begins in Seoul on Monday, is expected to have a far-reaching impact on South Asia’s future.

During its session, the NSG would take up membership requests from both India and Pakistan on June 23-24.

Pakistan submitted its membership application on May 19, a week after India, which applied on May 12, the day New Delhi resumed nuclear weapons testing in 1998. The NSG was formed in 1974, in response to India’s first nuclear test, to prevent further proliferation.

But now India is a favourite to join this 48-nation group, with an active support from the United States, Russia, Britain, France and other world powers.

China, however, is strongly resisting the Indian application, arguing that it would enhance a nuclear competition in South Asia by isolating Pakistan. China wants the group to admit Pakistan as well, pointing out that both India and Pakistan possessed nuclear weapons and had not signed the NPT.

While China may not force the NSG to admit Pakistan, it can block India as new members are admitted with a consensus of the existing members.

The NSG is one of the main tools for controlling the exports and proliferation of materials that could potentially be used in making weapons of mass destruction. It also tacks the black market trade of nuclear technologies.

Pakistan fears that if India becomes a member, it would use the consensus clause to prevent Pakistan from ever joining the group. Pakistan also fears that joining the NSG would increase India’s access to nuclear technology, which could also enhance its weapons programme, even if indirectly.

After a June 7 meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House, US President Barack Obama welcomed India’s application to join NSG, and re-affirmed that New Delhi was ready for membership.

“The United States called on NSG participating governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG plenary later this month,” said a joint statement issued after the meeting.

But some opinion makers, legislators and nuclear experts warned the Obama administration not to push forward India’s application.

“India’s membership of the NSG is not merited until the country meets the group’s standards,” wrote The New York Times. The newspaper argued that as NSG member, India would oppose Pakistan’s entry and “that could give Pakistan, which at one time provided nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran, new incentives to misbehave”.

India should be required to meet the NSG’s standards, “including opening negotiations with Pakistan and China on curbing nuclear weapons and halting the production of nuclear fuel for bombs,” the NYT added.

A key US Senator, Ed Markey, warned that enabling India to join the NSG would cause a “never-ending” nuclear race in South Asia.

The Obama administration, however, ignored such pleas and in another statement this week, it reiterated its call to NSG members to support India.

“The United States calls on NSG participating governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG plenary, which I think is next week,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing in Washington.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to the NSG members, saying they should “agree not to block consensus on Indian admission”.

India, though not a member, enjoys the benefits of membership under a 2008 exemption to NSG rules for its atomic cooperation deal with the US.

Mark Hibbs, a senior associate in Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s nuclear policy programme, urged the NSG not to accept India as a member right away.

“The NSG should not say yes next week,” he wrote in The Diplomat news magazine.

“It should tell India that there are good reasons to include it, but also that the group needs to complete an internal fact-finding and consensus-forming process in part to prepare the NSG for the consequences of possible Indian membership.”

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2016



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