Michael KreponClub Membership

India tried hard to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group with strong backing from the Obama Administration. It was a bridge too far. There was no consensus at the NSG meeting in Seoul to accept India’s candidacy, which was muddied by China’s advancement of Pakistan’s cause. No country besides China (with the possible exception of Turkey) appeared enthusiastic about Pakistan’s candidacy, but advancing Pakistan’s case was a smart move by Beijing, as it magnified the normative stakes of expanding the NSG’s membership.

The notion of a criteria-based approach to new membership resonated with enough NSG members to give Beijing – which dislikes going it alone – the company it sought. India advocated a merit-based approach, but this begged the question of how to measure merit. Standards are needed to assess merit, whether they are called criteria or not. Whatever merit- or criteria-based approach is pursued for new members ought to reinforce the objectives and purposes of the NSG. Which, in turn, raises the central question of what the NSG is all about, or might choose to become.

India’s drive for membership and Pakistan’s concerns about being left behind have invited useful conversations on these matters. There is now a process in place to think through the role of the NSG in our nuclear future, and standards of membership necessary to support this role.

Memberships matter. Treaty ratifications are a crucial form of membership. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has a huuuge membership, which matters more than the actions of a small number of states that block consensus at NPT Review Conferences. The lack of ratifications among the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s Annex 2 states restricts membership and treaty implementation. The non-ratification of the CTBT by its leading champion, the United States, is an embarrassment.

The U.S. Senate’s consent to the CTBT’s ratification could well bring China, India and Pakistan on board, as well as Israel. This would be highly relevant to the NSG’s deliberations. No single step by the next U.S. administration would reduce the global salience of nuclear weapons more – which is why Barack Obama would be wise to ramp up momentum on the CTBT this fall at the United Nations. Who knows what the next composition of the Senate will be, and whether some Republicans on Capitol Hill will re-evaluate postures that ill serve their Party and the country?

The NPT and the CTBT are rigid instruments. The NSG is inherently more adaptable because it is not a treaty. The purpose of the NSG is to support the NPT. The NSG has supported the NPT in the past by tightening export controls. If this remains the primary purpose of the NSG in the future, then new NSG applicants need only to tighten up their export controls to NSG standards to gain entry. Let proliferation bygones be bygones, and disregard the ongoing expansion of fissile material dedicated to making bombs and the nuclear stockpile growth of new applicants. Pakistan’s application clarifies far more than India’s that this narrow mission for the NSG is insufficient.

A broader conception of the NSG’s mission makes more sense, especially given the hard-to-adapt nature of treaty instruments to reduce nuclear dangers and nuclear weapons. But doesn’t this constitute changing the goal posts? Point well taken. The counterpoint is that the goal posts are being changed for the worse every day that fissile material stockpiles dedicated to bomb making and nuclear arsenals increase.It is also relevant to ask whether new applicants deserve to get a pass on refusing to sign and ratify the CTBT, blocking negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and not engaging in nuclear risk reduction measures. These actions and non-actions combine to increase nuclear dangers as well as nuclear weapons.

The civil nuclear deal that granted India an exception from the NSG’s rules of nuclear commerce accentuated these negative dynamics. New entrants into the NSG are worth considering if negatives can turn into positives. Let’s dispense with the canard that new members of the NSG ought to be members of the NPT. What matters most isn’t NPT membership, but actions, criteria and measures that support the NPT’s objectives of non-proliferation and disarmament.


  1. Joshua Pollack (History)

    It would be useful to have a better sense of India’s goals in seeking to join the NSG.

  2. Michael Krepon (History)

    India’s decision to go hell-bent for NSG membership is puzzling. Why run directly into China’s veto? Why now? One reason seems to be that Modi has a fixed view that this is important. Another is that he has sought and received Mr. Obama’s commitment of full support. Mr. Obama leaves office soon.
    My “go to” analyst in India is Raja Mohan, who supported this exertion of Indian reach. Raja wrote:
    “For India, this is about reclaiming its centrality in shaping the global order on arms control and the regulation of advanced technologies.”
    The latter reference may be to enrichment and reprocessing technologies that were exempted from India’s exemption from civil-nuclear commerce in the 2008 agreement brokered by the US. Is India going for NSG membership to remove the final shackles of being an outsider? Or is this mostly about India’s rightful place in the world?
    My colleagues, Sameer Lalwani and Shane Mason, postulated possible explanations: http://thewire.in/46165/india-needs-to-understand-the-causes-of-it-nsg-embarrassment/
    For post mortems, I recommend Shyam Saran:
    and Manoj Joshi:
    My own sense is that this miscalculation was a reflection of Prime Minister Modi’s instinctive impetuousness — and the inability or diffidence of the people around Modi to persuade him otherwise. Modi was clearly counting on Washington’s persuasiveness and China being unwilling to go it alone. Both assumptions were wrong: a civil-nuclear deal is one thing, but entry into the NSG is another. The Obama administration wasn’t all that persuasive. And China, as Shyam and Manoj note, has changed since the civil-nuclear deal made it through the NSG.
    Other theories welcome.

  3. Bradley Laing (History)

    A small spacecraft sent into orbit by the Long March 7 rocket launched from Hainan in southern China on Saturday is tasked with cleaning up space junk, according to the government, but some analysts claim it may serve a military purpose.