Authored by: Asma Khalid
Edited by: S. Sadia Kazmi
Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad
Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) organized a Panel discussion on “27th NSG Plenary Meeting: Challenges and Prospects” held on May 23, 2017 at the SVI premises. The discussion was chaired by Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President/Executive Director, SVI. The guest speakers included Dr. Zafar Khan, Assistant Professor Department of Strategic Studies, NDU; Group Captain Muhammad Waseem Qutab, Deputy Director, Arms Control and Disarmament, SPD, and Ambassador (R) Zamir Akram, former Permanent Representative to CD/ United Nations, Geneva. Dr. Cheema in his opening remarks thanked and welcomed worthy speakers for affording valuable time out of their busy schedule to speak on the subject. He also extended his thanks and welcomed the participants for gracing the occasion with their presence.
Dr. Cheema said that NSG discusses many issues but the most important and controversial is membership of India and Pakistan in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Dr. Cheema presented background of the NSG candidacy debate and focused on Grossi’s formula which was presented after the 26th plenary meeting in June 2016 and was officially rejected by the government of Pakistan because four out of nine points were clearly in favor of easing out India’s membership into the nuclear cartel.
First Speaker Dr. Zafar Khan talked about “Critical Appraisal of Non-Proliferation Regime and NSG Norms”. He maintained that although NSG was created against the Indian nuclear test of 1974; it is surprising to observe that even the NSG’s revised guidelines of June 2013 do not mention India directly; the country whose nuclear weapon test became responsible for the creation of NSG in the first place. One may question as to why NSG hides the fact of its origin when it currently exempts the similar nuclear weapons state, not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that conducted more nuclear weapons tests in May 1998? He further said that the major challenges that may fall within the critical issues of the NSG that it confronts in nuclear politics of 21st century is the induction of more members especially the states that are not party to the NPT. Since the revised NSG’s provisions talk about the criteria-based principles based on the unanimous consensus between the members, it would be challenging how the NSG could induct non-NPT states particularly possessing nuclear weapons into the NSG. There are two options for NSG regarding the entry of non-NPT states: First, the NSG could follow its principles and allow only non-NPT states to become part of the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) before they join the NSG respectively. However, this strict criterion may not be acceptable to India and/or Pakistan which are nuclear weapons states. They have never joined the NPT rather these states would like to be recognized; obtaining a formal nuclear legitimacy like the P-5 major nuclear weapons states before they could become part of the NPT. Second, the NSG could relax the conditions through mutual consensus that are acceptable for both India and Pakistan as the non-NPT members allowing both India and Pakistan simultaneously into the NSG, enjoying the similar rights for peaceful uses of nuclear technology under the IAEA’s comprehensive safeguards without compromising on their nuclear weapons status. In contrast, creating exceptions for one state against the interest of another could jeopardize the credibility of the NSG in general and affect the strategic stability of South Asia in particular.
Dr. Zafar Khan further highlighted three important factors that should be taken into account for the NSG membership.
- First, the participant or a member needs to adhere to one or more treaties such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or other international treaties on nuclear weapons free zones with full compliance of such agreements.
- Second, when it comes to the special controls on sensitive exports that largely include the Enrichment and Reprocessing Nuclear Technology (ENR), the NSG’s revised guidelines clearly depict that the Suppliers should not authorize the transfer of these sensitive materials if the recipient does not meet all of the criteria like full compliance with the NPT provisions etc.
- Third, in addition to these criteria based provisions, the NSG’s guidelines also mention that the Suppliers should not transfer the enrichment and reprocessing nuclear materials that enable the recipient to produce greater than 20% of enriched Uranium.
He added that the NSG currently confronts critical normative issues as majority of its members have already given certain exemptions in terms of providing nuclear technology to India. Most of the NSG major powers possessing nuclear weapons have shown commendable amount of leniency to India including the recent Grossi Formula paving the way for India to secure a smooth entry into the NSG. Creating exceptions in most of the cases for India whilst ignoring the set criteria by lowering the restriction bar undermine credibility of the NSG and the international non-proliferation regime. NSG as one of the important cartel groups in the field of non-proliferation is not free from following critical issues: first, the US-India nuclear deal and the NSG’s nuclear exemptions to India has become a critical issue for the NSG in terms of sustaining its credibility. This indicates that NSG undermines its own credibility by violating its own set guidelines. Second, NSG is not clear how and when it would need to increase its membership. Whether or not, it would include India as a nuclear weapon state [not party to the NPT]. Also, it is not clear if it intends to bring both India and Pakistan into the NSG simultaneously by widening its scope of nuclear politics [not party to the NPT]. Nevertheless, the NSG can strengthen its prospects as one of the major and influential cartel groups leading towards a formal and serious treaty formation by accommodating more states [party to the NPT]. Options for bold measures by the NSG can be taken to restore and further enhance the normative posture and credibility of the NSG as one of the rising cartels in the field of non-proliferation.
He suggested following three options for NSG with regards to the membership of India and Pakistan:
- It could allow Indian membership, leaving Pakistan behind. However, this is not advisable because this could have critical consequences of arms race and increased over reliance on nuclear weapons in South Asia. This may not be in the best interest of the NSG members when their geo-economic and geo-strategic stakes are high in the South Asian region.
- NSG could relax its provisions, unanimously agreeing that it could eventually pave the way for both India and Pakistan to join the NSG. This is strongly recommended. However, both would remain legitimate and responsible nuclear weapons states by following the essential parameters of the international non-proliferation regime including that of the additional protocol of the IAEA.
- NSG remains stuck to its provisions without showing any flexibility by not allowing either of the South Asian nuclear weapon states to become part of the NSG unless they fully satisfy the guidelines of the NSG particularly that of joining the NPT. However, this may not be favorable to the NSG as this would show the NSG as too rigid, discriminatory, and limited by not increasing its membership.
While concluding he stated that by making both India and Pakistan obligatory to the essential parameters of the non-proliferation, increasing its membership, and promoting the cause of non-proliferation, the NSG could enhance its credibility in the field of non-proliferation and the transfer of nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.
Second speaker of the event, Group Captain Waseem Qutab talked about “India-Pakistan Candidacy for NSG: Future Prospects and Impact on Strategic Stability in South Asia”. While talking about how NSG debate impacts the strategic stability and to help one conceptualize the status of non-NPT states in the global nuclear order, he quoted the Norwegian writer stating that the NPT-led non-proliferation regime is challenged from four directions:
- From within by the NNWS [party to the NPT] who are suspected to be proliferating under the umbrella of peaceful nuclear program and continue to remain under scrutiny by the IAEA.
- From below by the terrorist and Non State Actors (NSAs), who have shown interest in acquiring the nuclear weapons to achieve various objectives.
- From above by the recognized P5 nuclear states who are reluctant to negotiate nuclear disarmament. These states are now confronted with the Nuclear Ban Treaty negotiations that are underway by the United Nations.
- From outside the Non-Proliferation regime which are the de-facto outside states India, Israel and Pakistan.
Three non-NPT nuclear weapon states: India, Pakistan and Israel are treated as outlier states which are not integrated into the global nuclear order until 2008 when India got exemption from the NSG. These states were neither enjoying civil nuclear co-operation nor they have made any commitment similar to P5 states. Both NPT and NSG have their strengths and weaknesses. NPT forms the core of the Non-Proliferation regime and being a legally binding treaty it is more successfully implementable. Nevertheless at the same time it is too difficult and too rigid to evolve to accept outlier state as NPT nuclear weapon state. Neither these three states are expected to give up their nuclear capability as non-Nuclear weapon state nor they would be recognized by the NPT by amending the NPT Articles so as to be treated as nuclear weapon state. NSG on the other hand being a voluntary regime is more prone to political manipulation but it is flexible enough to accommodate outlier states into its fold as members, if consensus emerges. The question remains that what approach should the NSG adopt to reach to a consensus decision?
There are two divergent approaches currently existing in NSG. One is country specific approach which essentially means the continuation of India-only exemption approach. Pakistan continues to flag its concerns that India had been granted the exemption and more than dozen nuclear deals would enhance India’s weapon potential due to lack of safeguards and obligations agreed by India. Pakistan’s concerns have been vindicated by several independent reports including the latest by Dr. Mansoor at Belfer Center titled “India’s Nuclear Exceptionalism”. In opposition to country specific approach is the criteria based approach and several countries within NSG support developing a non-discriminatory, equal and uniform criteria which should be applied to both India and Pakistan and perhaps the third nuclear weapon state Israel. Pakistan supports this approach.
While defining various aspects of strategic stability, he added that there could be three aspects to it. First, “Most broadly” that talks about regional or global security environment in which states enjoy peaceful and harmonious relations; second, “Most narrowly” in which states have the absence of incentives to use nuclear weapons first and the absence of incentives to build up a nuclear force; Third “Middle position” exists in Indo-Pak case which is the absence of armed conflict between nuclear-armed states.
Moreover, South Asian regional security environment is being challenged from different kind of developments. To highlight the international concerns on strategic stability in South Asia regarding development of military doctrine of both India and Pakistan, Mr. Qutab quoted former US President Barrack Obama’s statement on South Asian Security Complex: “We’d need to see progress in Pakistan and India, that Subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction”. While explaining the statement, Mr. Qutab said that this statement does not create distinction between action and reaction. The military doctrine that India is developing is essentially an action which Pakistan has responded to by taking a counter response. However if we take this as current state of affairs in South Asia, there are all the more reasons for the two nuclear adversaries to engage in dialogues, confidence building measures, restraint options and trust building. While co-relating this discussion with the component of criteria adhering NPT articles, Mr. Qutab quoted, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. If NPT were to become criteria for membership of NSG, by developing a correlation between regional security situation and one criterion of NSG membership, both India and Pakistan which are de facto nuclear weapons sates, will give legal obligation for nuclear disarmament that would be secession of nuclear arms race in the region. It will be up to the two South Asian nuclear states to negotiate on such an arrangement, nonetheless nuclear disarmament will be a legal obligation if it becomes part of criteria. This could be one way to explain how a criteria-based approach can contribute to strategic stability in South Asia.
It is significant to note that the NSG membership is immune to bilateral complexities. For example India and Pakistan are not talking to each other. So if criteria based approach brings the two states together to an agreed upon framework then this will multilateralize a bilateral problem. At the same time the NSG doesn’t take into account India’s preoccupation with China. He highlighted that whenever Pakistan wants to talk to India, the latter always raises the question of China from which it perceives threat. There is also the issue of non-state actor or terrorism that is not taken into account with regards to NSG membership. In the end he referred to the analogy of “Elephant’s Trunk or Tail” i.e. the Kashmir issue. While Pakistan considers Kashmir as a major problem at the fore front (i.e. as elephant’s trunk), India on the other hand places the issue last (i.e. as elephant’s tail). Instability in the region is due to this difference in approaches and Kashmir stands as a bone of contention between two nuclear powers of South Asia. He concluded by saying that criteria-based NSG membership is a
mutually beneficial proposition because it will benefit the strategic restrain, the stability in South Asia, the Non-proliferation regime, NPT and NSG.
The next speaker Ambassador (R) Zamir Akram proceeded with his thoughts on “Political and Diplomatic Aspects of NSG”. He said that the outcome of last plenary meeting of the NSG held in Seoul maintained that there would be a two-step approach by the participating governments towards consideration of the applications from Pakistan and India. This two-step approach is supposed to evolve first with regards to setting up criteria of factors for consideration of membership for any country and then the applications will be considered in the second step. As a follow up to this understanding, Mr. Grossi was requested by the president of NSG from South Korea to come up with an approach and formula. The procedure he presented however is quite controversial. China and other countries felt it needs to be evolved through transparent dialogue between the participating governments. The designed formula clearly favors India and goes against Pakistan’s interest. In Ambassador Akram’s view the most important aspect of Grossi’s formula was that even if Pakistan was admitted as a member of the nuclear cartel, it would still need to get an exemption for nuclear cooperation. It underscores how deliberately this approach was skewered by the Argentinean Ambassador Rafael Mariano Grossi. Hence Pakistan rejects the formula. The question now is what would happen in next plenary to be held in the mid of June 2017? The most significant factor is the new US administration. The outgoing Obama administration gave strong commitment to support the Indian membership. Whereas the Trump administration has not yet spoken in detail about India’s membership but it is perceived that there will be no change in American position with regards to Indian membership. Because of American pressure there is a considerable support for India’s exclusive membership for the NSG by a number of important countries including France, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and several other states that have entered into bilateral arrangements for civilian nuclear cooperation with India as a result of the waiver given to it.
Countries like Japan and Australia that are in the forefront of promoting the NPT and global non-proliferation and lecture Pakistan about its nuclear policies, are somehow immune to the double standards when it comes to supporting India’s NSG membership. These countries are also cooperating with India in the nuclear field. Such practices reveal that there exists hypocrisy regarding global efforts for non-proliferation.
He further added that it is fortunate that a number of medium sized powers have the courage to take principled position. Apart from the support of China and Turkey being allies of Pakistan, countries like New Zealand, Ireland, Switzerland and Belarus have taken a principled position despite pressure by the United States. These states stand for two step approach and objective criteria which should be equally applicable to all members and should not be tailor made to support one country i.e. India. These countries should be appreciated for their principled position as it shows courage on their part despite pressure from the US.
Three factors should be considered regarding NSG membership: 1) Technical, 2) Legal, and 3) Radical. Under the legal and technical factors, foremost consideration is the membership of NPT and Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZ). Neither India nor Pakistan and Israel qualify or meet this conditionality as none of these three are member of NPT and NWFZ.
He added that, the countries are talking about the need for evolving new criteria for NSG membership. United States and its allies have come up with new approach to support India’s entry in nuclear cartel. They have come up with the idea that India is like minded, it ascribes to the objective of NPT and it has taken steps like separating civil-nuclear facilities and agreeing to additional protocol. Hence, India doesn’t need to do more for NSG membership. But the countries like New Zealand, Ireland and Switzerland are of the view that India has not done enough to get membership of NSG and countries like India and Pakistan need to do more. He added that some states are of the view that new criteria should be worked upon with following aspects:
- Adherence to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
- Adherence with start of the negotiations on fissile materials;
- More clear plan for complete separation of civil and military facilities.
Another exception that the major powers tend to offer in India’s case is based on the so called like-mindedness. The problem for these states for suggesting India’s exceptionalism is that they have to contend with some uncomfortable facts that have emerged from India’s nuclear performance since the waiver is given to India. He added that the Belfer Center report talks about three streams in India’s nuclear program:
- one stream is civilian safeguarded,
- second is unsafeguarded military stream,
- and the one in between is unsafeguarded civilian stream.
The problem is that a lot of fissile material that is being imported extensively for India’s civilian nuclear program is going into the third stream which is civilian unsafeguarded stream. Nobody knows for sure as to what is happening with this large quantity of fissile material. It may be going into civilian use or it could possibly be going into military use. Consequently there exists a big hole that keeps one guessing. This is a critical issue that has been there in literature and a number of countries are aware of this problem. It is also clear from the second Belfer report that the ability for India to import its fissile material for civilian purpose has enabled it to use its indigenous stock of fissile material exclusively for weapon purpose. So India’s ability to increase the inventory of nuclear weapons has gone up tremendously. This depicts that negative narrative of the US and its allies about the fastest growing nuclear program of Pakistan is a complete farce. The fact of the matter is that the number of nuclear facilities and fissile material stocks in Pakistan are much lesser as compared to India’s especially after it was given the waiver in 2008. Hence it is impossible for Pakistan to have a nuclear program that is growing faster than that of India. These kinds of lies are needed to be nailed by Pakistan in the international community.
Another factor is that India has flatly refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This stance of India doesn’t go well with certain countries that want CTBT as new criteria. He said that, even in case of FMCT, India is hiding behind Pakistan because it doesn’t have justified reasons unlike Pakistan for opposing negotiations on FMCT. The last factor is that now several countries are beginning to realize that any kind of exemption to India on NSG membership is going to have a tremendous negative impact on regional stability.
While talking about Pakistan’s perspective on NSG, he mentioned three aspects:
- First, the way Pakistan’s civilian and military nuclear weapons programs have developed over the years there has already been an inbuilt separation between the two.
- The second important fact is that all the civilian facilities of Pakistan are under International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safeguards.
- Third, Pakistan’s nuclear laws and safety and security measures are entirely in line with the NSG guidelines and IAEA requirements.
It has been said several times at highest level meetings that Pakistan is ready to sign Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if India does the same. Pakistan has also offered India bilateral arrangements on testing but India has turned down the talks.
In the end, Ambassador Akram said that for Pakistan the issue is about the existing stocks because there is an asymmetry in the stocks between India and Pakistan. In such a situation it is essential to negotiate the need to not only ban future production but to take into account the existing stocks as well. This is the bases on which Pakistan can negotiate treaty on Fissile material. When Pakistan proposed this approach in 2014 and again in 2015 the only opponents were the P5 and India. But everyone else supported Pakistan’s approach. So, the countries that already understand this point of view on issue of stocks will also understand Pakistan’s request to include Fissile Material as criteria for membership and there will be considerable understanding for Pakistan’s position. While concluding he said that these diverse issues present that stalemate on the issue of India-Pakistan membership into NSG is likely to continue in the foreseeable future and any kind of change in position of the US and China is unlikely. As long as that is the case there isn’t going to be any consensus and forward movement on this issue and impasse will continue.
During the Question & Answer Session Dr. Cheema highlighted that India has signed multiple agreements with different countries for nuclear cooperation and resultantly India’s future fissile material stockpiles are increasing largely and more rapidly as compared to Pakistan. So while it is important to take existing fissile material stockpile into account for negotiations on FMCT, isn’t it also important that India’s stock piles should not expand or Pakistan reconsider its position to come back to the negotiation table on the FMCT, is it not in Pakistan’s interest to do that? He asked Ambassador Zamir Akram should Pakistan not consider exposing India by letting FMCT negations go ahead? He further added that if the removal of negotiations’ firewall not in the interest of Pakistan, which otherwise India is using as an excuse to expand its fissile material? Why Pakistan was bearing the brunt alone in international community for blocking FMCT? He also asked why India and the US are so adamant to stop Pakistan’s entry into NGS, if removing such opposition would get India membership as well, why don’t they go for that instead? Amb. Akram replied that Pakistan was not seeking parity with India. With increasing stockpile of fissile material India can rapidly expand its nuclear weapons stock. For Pakistan the concern is the issue of adequacy. It is about having credible second strike capability that is the essence of Pakistan’s approach which informs its position on FMCT. Since the increase in stockpiles is dynamic and an ongoing process, no one knows how much will be enough because it mainly depends on India as to how many weapons it plans to make. Main reason is that there is an absence of dialogue between the two countries on limiting the nuclear weapons, while simultaneously India is rapidly developing strategic capabilities and implementing Cold Start doctrine. Hence Pakistan does not know when India is going to stop. If two negotiate in good faith then a line will have to be drawn to put a constraint on stockpiles. Amb. Akram said that the blue print of FMCT is ready because FMCT is only applicable to P5+ India, Pakistan and Israel and among eight nuclear weapon states only Pakistan’s stance is different. Pakistan is of the view that ban on future fissile material stockpiles is not enough. Existing stocks have to be taken into consideration as well, whereas P5+India and Israel have taken same position on FMCT. He added that India opposed CTBT but made the mistake of allowing CTBT negotiations to carryon. Since CD works on consensus basis so CTBT was concluded in CD. Later, same text was taken to UN General Assembly and adopted by majority. Amb. Akram said that same can happen to FMCT. So Pakistan has to be careful about that.
Ambassador (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi pointed out the fact that NSG was actually created in the aftermath of unauthorized nuclear test by India in 1974. He quoted Ms. Hua Chunying, Spokesperson Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China that “China’s position on the admission of non-NPT states into the NSG remains unchanged.” China supports the NSG in handling the relevant issue with the principle of consensus and through the open and transparent intergovernmental process and the “two-step” approach. Under these circumstances, the situation for India is not going to be resolved any time soon. He said that separation of civilian and military nuclear program of Pakistan already exists. The IAEA Additional Protocol is very flexible, each state can have it tailor made with country specific reservation/exemptions. He emphasized on the need to further strengthen Pakistan’s position for NSG membership and asked if Pakistan should consider announcing the separation of civilian and military nuclear program formally by signing the IAEA Additional Protocol? Amb. Zamir Akram responded by saying that Pakistan should follow the same sequence as was followed by India. India gave these assurances in response to the waiver that were given to it. There was a quid pro quo. He suggested that Pakistan should not give these assurances for nothing; there should be a quid pro quo just as there was for India. Dr. Zafar Khan added that Pakistan needs to raise its voice politically and diplomatically. It is imperative to gain the same treatment that was given to India. He said that if in case India gets the membership it will try to block Pakistan’s NSG membership bid as NSG works on the principle of consensus. Adding to the discussion Group Captain Waseem Qutab said that although it is up to the NSG to formally come up with criteria, Pakistan has outlined its principles and objectives which support non-discriminatory and uniform criteria. Civilian and military nuclear program separation already exists in Pakistan and all the civilian nuclear facilities of Pakistan are under facility specific safeguards. However India even till date doesn’t have such an arrangement in place. Similarly, arrangements like Additional Protocol and Umbrella Safeguards remain under consideration.
Ms. Rubina Waseem, PhD candidate from National Defence University asked Mr. Waseem Qutab and Amb (R) Zamir Akram if Pakistan has to look up to China every time or does it have a Plan B for securing NSG membership? She added that there has been an international narrative building as to why Pakistan is more interested in getting the NSG membership and not going for MTCR membership? Amb. Akram explained that it is not in Pakistan’s interest to join MTCR. Pakistan’s missile program is at the stage of development and it should not put itself under any restrictions that MTCR would impose. Pakistan should instead keep its options open. About NSG he said that it is not just China but there are 25 other countries that have taken a principled position in which they demand the membership criteria to be developed first before considering the membership applications. He said there is no plan B; we have to wait unless both countries get membership. Dr. Cheema added to the question as to what should Pakistan do if in case China drops its opposition to India. Mr. Waseem Qutab stated that there are no indications that China is relenting on its position. At the same time there is “rethinking within NSG” because the implications of exemptions and membership are different. Even if China drops its opposition there are several other countries which would continue to oppose India’s membership. With regards to MTCR, Mr. Qutab said that the NSG is more important but MTCR is more politicized than the NSG. Since 2004 the MTCR membership was stagnant to 34 countries. India’s application got accepted because of the political influence. However NSG is free from such political influence. Its membership is gradually increasing. Political influence is the reason that there is not much emphasis for MTCR. Pakistan’s missile program is mature so joining the MTCR can be beneficial for Pakistan. Pakistan officially supports four multilateral export control regimes including MTCR and NSG.
Ms. Maimuna Ashraf, Research Associate, SVI asked that although India is persistently in support of universal criteria for non-NPT states, there are bleak chances of India getting into NSG. In such a scenario will India’s inclusion into MTCR improve India’s credentials for getting into NSG? She also asked if there could be a possibility where China might be offered MTCR membership on the condition of giving up its opposition to India’s membership into NSG? Mr. Waseem Qutab responded by saying that if one looks at China’s position on the NSG membership, it is quite strong and there is no relenting on two step approach. China will not stop opposing India’s membership into NSG even if it is offered entry into MTCR because China has applied for MTCR membership in 2004, but now China is not pursuing it, so there does not seem any possibility of giving up its opposition to India’s membership for NSG. On the other hand India’s MTCR membership surely has improved its credentials but each and every regime has its own dynamics. Ambassador Akram added that China made the membership request many years before India did but was not given the membership. The major reason behind this is the lingering issues between China and the US. Similarly India is and will not be in a position to bargain with China because it’s not India’s hand to deliver. The more important question is, could US bargain with China? In this regard China’s position is very clear. China has taken Pakistan into confidence that its opposition to India’s application for NSG is based on principles on which there is no room for compromise.
In the end Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President/Executive Director SVI, thanked the distinguished guests, speakers and the participants.