The Obama administration’s announcement that it will “support India’s full membership” in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) shows a troubling disregard for the long term health of the international institutions governing nonproliferation.
The NSG was formed in 1975 in reaction to the 1974 Indian nuclear test. Its purpose is to set rules, which members agree to abide by, to govern the trade of technology that could potentially be used for a nuclear weapon. In the decades since that Indian test, India has chosen to remain outside the nonproliferation system that the U.S. has done so much to erect and sustain. Now the Obama administration wants to give India a formal voice in setting the rules of that system.
One criticism of the Bush administration was that it used American leadership of international institutions as a way to help its friends and punish its enemies, rather than working to sustain a rules-based international order. With this initiative to include India in the NSG, Obama is continuing that trend. As George Perkovich recently said at the Carnegie Endowment:
But now, Indians are arguing and Obama’s getting pressure – and he may do this on the visit – to say, well, yes, we’re going to bring India into this entities like the NSG, which India has always hated and always said were inappropriate and racist and so on. We’re going to bring India in and they’re really going to help us strengthen it. Who are you kidding?
I mean, this is about membership. It’s about healing a psychological wound. But the idea that India actually cares about strengthening these entities – eh, I don’t think so. And the rest of the world kind of sees that and so they say, wait a minute, you’re going to now – you’ve already kind of frustrated everybody with this deal in the first place – now you’re going to try to compound it by bringing these guys in.
Daryl Kimball reacted to the announcement this morning:
By exempting India from U.S. and international trade restrictions, India now has access to international nuclear fuel markets, which will free up domestic supplies for bomb production and could allow India to accelerate its rate of production of fissile material for nuclear bombs, Pakistan has reacted negatively and is working even harder than before to accelerate its own fissile material production capacity.
Obama’s pledge to bring India into the NSG itself would cause a lot of nonproliferation pain and absolutely no gain.
An institution like the NSG doesn’t merely serve to check the ambitions of troublesome nations like Iran, it also helps in managing the interaction between the dozens of countries involved in the global nonproliferation system. Those interactions will be more troublesome and fraught with India as an NSG member.
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- Indian Nuclear Liability and Strategic Coherence
- New START: Still Not About Tactical Nuclear Weapons
- New START: Lessons for Future Treaties