Hours after Mexico changed its longstanding stance to support India for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of countries, led by China, is said to have blocked India’s application to become a member of the elite grouping that controls transfer of nuclear technology.
Thursday started on an optimistic note for India, as Mexican President Pena Nieto, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side in Mexico City, said, “As a country, we are going to be positively and constructively supporting India’s request in recognition of the commitment by Prime Minister Modi to the international agenda of disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Modi thanked President Nieto “for Mexico’s positive and constructive support for India’s membership of the NSG”.
The expression of support, coming within a week of Switzerland’s, was reiterated by Mexico’s foreign ministry, which said that “President Pena declared that Mexico would give positive and constructive support to the membership of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), recognising the commitment of India to the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda”.
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Mexico has held a strong position on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation for years, and was instrumental in forging the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, which declared Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone free of nuclear weapons.
But as the day rolled into night, and the NSG’s extraordinary plenary meeting took place in Vienna, sources said that “most countries appear positive” but it’s “an ongoing process” — an oblique reference to the China-led blocking of the Indian application.
With the Vienna meeting over, India will now focus on the “hold-out countries” in the next few weeks, with an official saying that they were “cautiously optimistic” on the way forward.
The NSG plenary in Seoul will take place on June 23-24. “The Vienna meeting was a pre-Seoul vetting process… it will be important to watch which countries raise concerns,” a source told The Indian Express.
According to Reuters, diplomats in Vienna confirmed that China was leading the opposition to India’s entry, along with New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa and Austria.
“By bringing India on board, it’s a slap in the face of the entire non-proliferation regime,” a diplomatic source from a country resisting India’s push was quoted as saying by the agency.
According to reports, China’s strategy is that it will not support India’s case unless Pakistan becomes a member. But that would be unacceptable to many NSG countries, considering Pakistan’s track record on nuclear proliferation — after all, A Q Khan, considered the father of its nuclear programme sold nuclear technology to other countries, including North Korea and Iran.
“China, if anything, is hardening (its position),” another diplomat was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Most of the hold-outs oppose the idea of admitting a non-NPT state and argue that if it is to be admitted, it should be under criteria that apply equally to all states rather than under a “tailor-made” solution for a US ally.
Bloomberg news agency, meanwhile, reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry has written a letter to countries asking them to support India.
Kerry’s letter, according to the report, said, “India has shown strong support for the objectives of the NSG and the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and is a ‘like-minded’ state deserving of NSG admission.”
To sweeten the deal, Kerry has also hinted that India would be willing to cooperate with Pakistan’s application in his letter. “With respect to other possible new members of the NSG, Indian officials have stated that India would take a merit-based approach to such applications and would not be influenced by extraneous regional issues,” he wrote.
Tanvi Madan, director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution, said the right approach would be “to work on China, while also trying to get everyone else on board”.
“Both India and the US will work on getting China on board, but simultaneously the idea is to get to a point where China might be the only holdout — in the past, it hasn’t liked to be the only one standing out and the message from India will be: do you really want to be the only one standing against this; think of the impact on not just the Indian elite but public, especially combined with the UN terrorist designation issue.”
Reflecting on the Chinese-led opposition in NSG, Teresita C Schaffer, a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings Institution, told The Indian Express, “In 2008, India got a waiver from the NSG after months of intense high-pressure diplomacy by the US and India. The strategy was to get everyone but China on board, and then push China.”
According to Schaffer, who has served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East and South Asia, “What is getting lost is the fact that including India makes the NSG goal of controlling nuclear exports more achievable than it is today. That should matter to the other holdouts and even to China if they thought about it.”
Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, The Indian Express, “The NSG is a 48-member regime that takes decisions on a consensus basis. That means that even one dissenting member can hold up a decision. So having Switzerland and Mexico committed gives India two more vital votes — every single vote matters in a consensus decision process.”
Ayres, who served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US State Department said, “The US has been committed to supporting Indian membership in the NSG. I’m certain that US diplomats are working hard to persuade China of India’s case.”