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NSG and India, one step forward, two steps back

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NSG and India

Blog by : Chandrakant Singh

The NSG episode should deliver a few lessons in the way international politics is conducted, provided we have an audience willing to learn. International policy may be about summits and photo-ops, but these are based on deals that have been carefully worked out beforehand. The expectation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would charm his interlocutors into supporting India is naïve, to say the least. Just why India wants membership to the NSG so badly is not clear, since we already have a waiver for civil nuclear trade.  There has been talk of arriving at the nuclear high-table. But since 2011, the NSG has instituted a rule that would deny enrichment and reprocessing technologies even to members if they have not signed the NPT. In other words, we are probably condemned to a second-class membership anyway, whenever we do manage to get in.

There were expectations that the US would win the day for us. But that was a serious miscalculation. In 2008, the US was willing to do the heavy lifting because the waiver was necessary for the US to activate the Indo-US nuclear deal. But this time around, India’s membership to the NSG does not have the same salience for the US; it is a commitment to India, but not something that affects the US itself. India has the waiver it needs to trade with the US and other countries. And the US has never quite been committed to giving us enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Besides, the US cannot be entirely unhappy with the focus on China on this issue because it is pushing India into a deeper US embrace. Instead of evolving policy through this matrix, India is displaying a petulant attitude, a sense of entitlement that somehow China owed it something and has therefore stabbed it in the back by not supporting its NSG bid.

The hype over Modi’s diplomatic abilities is not particularly helpful. Far from being geopolitically savvy, India has displayed petulance and a sense of entitlement in its attitude towards NSG membership. Outfits like the NSG are not about international law, but about geopolitics. China’s views are not too difficult to understand.  Of all the Asian countries that have the potential to rival China in terms of geographical spread, military power and economy, India does. China has no intention of aiding a rival’s rise, even if that rival is way behind it. It is, of course, ready for normal relations, one involving carefully calibrated give and take.

Across the Indian media, there have been statements and op-eds berating the Chinese for their perfidy, hypocrisy and cussedness in refusing to support India’s case for entry into the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG). The complaints go that they themselves have broken all the rules; aided Pakistan with nuclear materials, design and testing; cocked a snook at the NSG by supplying allegedly grandfathered nuclear reactors to Pakistan and protected North Korea as it torpedoed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Yet they are denying India its just place in the world order. So, frustrated and angry Indians are demanding that we punish China, boycott their goods, and join forces with the US to take on China and other such remedies.

The NSG is not an international treaty, but a cartel of nuclear equipment and material suppliers that sets its own rules and amends them through consensus among its 48 members. The US may have promised to get India into this club, but China owed India nothing – it made no such commitment and, in 2008, very reluctantly went along with the waiver India got on civil nuclear trade. Indeed, far from isolating China, India has found itself alone when the NSG refused to consider its request for membership. India may take comfort that the holdouts were China, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Switzerland and Mexico, but in the public statement on Friday, June 24, following its plenary in Seoul, the NSG said that the “participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.” In other words, the entire outfit, including the US and the others, called for the “effective implementation of the NPT”, code for its universalisation (even though the u-word was not used) which means that either India signs or stays out of the NSG.

According to Mr. Srinivasan, needless expectations were raised on becoming part of the group and so much political capital at the highest level of Government of India and Prime Minister was deployed for the purpose.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the SCO summit in Tashkent on Friday. (PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla/file)

Noted scientist and Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) member M R Srinivasan on Saturday said the Centre’s push to gain Nuclear Suppliers Group membership was ‘unnecessary, The AEC, a body under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), would have advised the government to desist from such a move had it been consulted, he said.

Srinivasan, a former Chairman of the AEC, which looks after atomic energy activities in the country, argued that NSG membership does not make a difference to India’s nuclear commerce as New Delhi has signed agreements with other countries for supply of reactors and uranium.“Unnecessarily, India made a big hype about this admission into the NSG. It was completely unnecessary because the 2008 waiver was already enabling us to have nuclear commerce with nuclear advanced countries and we already have agreements with Russia, France and the United States for reactor projects…,” he said in an interview to PTI.

India also has uranium buying agreement with multiple countries, including Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia, Srinivasan noted, adding it was an ‘unwarranted and ill-advised initiative’ to seek entry into the group of nuclear-supplier countries set up in 1974.

The Padma Bhushan awardee said failure to get in NSG would not have adverse impact on India’s nuclear programme as New Delhi has its own capability “for designing and building reactors and fuel manufacturing, reprocessing and so on.”

“On the ground, it won’t make any difference (on failure to get NSG membership). We already have a waiver. We are already having cooperation with important countries and countries which are able to supply uranium. There was no need for us to subject ourselves to embarrassment. Unfortunately, our (India’s) self-esteem has been dented (with this failure),” the well-known 86-year-old nuclear scientist said.

“(Had) the matter been initially brought to the Atomic Energy Commission, (of) which I am still a member, and if they (the Government) had asked if we (the Government) should proceed with this issue (seeking NSG entry), I would have said the same thing — don’t raise the issue,” he said.“But it was not brought to the Atomic Energy Commission. It’s unfortunate. It was thought to be the preserve of Foreign Office…Ministry of External Affairs…I do not know. Needless drama (India’s diplomatic push on NSG membership) has gone on for a number of days,” he said.

Srinivasan, who played a key role in the development of India’s nuclear power programme and pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR), said that no evaluation was made about the perceived benefits of NSG membership. “…whether we should have put so much effort…Prime Minister going to so many countries, canvassing (for NSG entry). Somebody from Foreign Office who has done evaluation, either they did evaluation and their assumptions were not borne out or evaluation was not properly carried out. I am unhappy that we should put so much importance to this thing (NSG membership),” he said.
“It was a quest we could have well avoided and an embarrassment we could well have avoided,” he said, pointing out that India should have sensed the mood with China and some other countries raising objections to India’s membership.

He also found fault with the media’s description of the NSG as an “elite group”.

“How can a 48-member NSG be an elite group? It got members like New Zealand, Ireland…all these people who have no nuclear programme of any kind,” he said.

China has opposed India’s bid to enter the NSG. Credit: PTI

The Indian response has been that the 2008 NSG waiver to justify its application “states that the decision on India contributes to the widest possible implementation of the provisions and objectives of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”The doyen of realists, the political scientist John Mearsheimer, tells us that the world is inherently insecure and the great powers are locked in a tragic competition to be, and remain, number one. The hegemon of the day will do everything to prevent a rival from taking over, and no one will aid another in achieving primacy. China is today an Asian regional power, aspiring to global primacy, and it is not about to give India, a regional state with some geo-economic and military heft, a leg up. A corollary to this could well be a question about the extent to which the US will help us to become a great power – the answer is surely, only to the point that we aid the project of balancing China in south-east Asia. In other regions, there are other options.There is a further disincentive to China giving too much – its relationship with Pakistan, the ‘iron brother’ that has helped it lock down India in South Asia. The foremost lesson of international politics India needs to learn is that geopolitics always trumps world order. And of all the countries that have excelled in exploiting this, Pakistan is without a peer. In the 1980s, it persuaded the US to set aside its global non-proliferation agenda in exchange for facilitating the latter’s jihad against the Soviet Union. Today it has convinced China that its best chance of getting into the NSG lies in appending its application to that of India. Realist international discourse is built on the principle of give and take and, as the adage goes, there are no free lunches.  Each country ruthlessly pursues its national interest and if other states get in the way, they find ways of winning them over, neutralising them or punishing them. Kautilyan injunctions call for pitilessly using saam (suasion), daam (purchase), dand (punishment) and bhed (division) as the ways of getting on in the real world.

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Azerbaijan said Thursday that nearly 2,800 of its soldiers were killed in recent fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, the first details it has released of military losses in weeks of clashes with Armenian forces.

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The Interpol has asked police organisations to ensure “the safety of the supply chain” and said “identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential”.

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New Delhi, December 3: The Interpol has warned law enforcement agencies across the globe that organised criminal networks could try to advertise and sell fake COVID-19 vaccines physically and on the internet.

In an Orange notice issued to all 194 member countries on Wednesday, the Lyon-based international police cooperation body warned agencies to prepare for potential criminal activity in relation to “the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines”.

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The warning came on the day the UK became the first Western nation to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, vaulting past the US and the European Union in the race to approve a vaccine.

The Interpol has asked police organisations to ensure “the safety of the supply chain” and said “identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential”.

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Pakistan’s Covid-19 cases surpass 406k mark

Frontline healthcare workers and people over 65 years of age will be the first to get the vaccine administered, he added.

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Islamabad, Dec 3 : Pakistan’s overall coronavirus caseload has increased to 406,810 after an additional 3,499 people tested positive in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

In the same period, a total of 8,205 people died and 346,951 recovered from the disease in the country which is currently battling a serious second wave, Xinhua news agency quoted the Ministry as saying.

The two new figures increased the overall death toll and recoveries to 8,205 and 346,951, respectively.

Sindh province is currently the worst hit with 177,625 cases, followed by most populous province Punjab with 121,083 positive cases, the official figures revealed.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Health Faisal Sultan said that the government has approved to allocate a budget of $150 million to purchase vaccines.

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