June 21, 2017

India's 'secret machinery' to push its NSG bid

Centre's 'secret machinery' to push its NSG bid

By Indrani Bagchi, TNN | Updated: Jun 20, 2017, 08.25 PM IST



NEW DELHI: With the NSG plenary approaching this week, India is much more circumspect about its lobbying efforts after last year's high decibel disaster. 

But behind the scenes, quiet efforts are on to keep the Indian interest alive with other members of the NSG. MEA secretaries have been engaging with ambassadors of key countries like Brazil to push the Indian case. 

Last week, new Korean President Moon Jae-in sent his special envoy Dongchea Chung to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Korea is the outgoing chair of NSG, and the issue featured in the conversation, though both sides are tight-lipped about it. 

Meanwhile, the incoming chair, Switzerland, has said it continues to support India's candidature. Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, spokesperson of the Swiss foreign ministry told TOI, "We support India's application for participation in the NSG and acknowledge India's support to global non-proliferation efforts. We are of the view that it would contribute to strengthening global non-proliferation efforts if all countries having relevant nuclear technology and being suppliers of such technology were to become NSG members." 

However, a sign that there will be little movement this week came from Beijing, where the foreign ministry spokesperson said there was "no change" in China's position on non-NPT members in the NSG. "On the issue of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), I can tell you China's stance on the accession of new members into NSG has not changed," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. 

In previous years, China was reluctant to be left isolated in multilateral settings. Now with greater power, China cares less for such niceties, if they go against China's national position. 

India has asked Russia to intercede with China on India's behalf, but so far there are no indications that this has borne fruit. Until last year, India depended on the US to do the heavy lifting on its behalf. 

The Trump administration has not articulated any position on this, but Richard Stratford, an old hand with nuclear matters vis-a-vis India, is currently the acting assistant secretary of state in charge. In 2011, Stratford first broached the subject of India's entry into NSG by circulating a "non-paper" for members to chew on, where he tried to work around the NPT criteria demand. But it's not clear he has any clear political direction this time and no one is burning up phone lines in Washington as in 2008. 

After the last NSG plenary, the South Korean chair Song Young-wan appointed former Argentinian diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi to work out a template for inducting non-NPT members after consultation with the various members, particularly the ones who had had issues with the procedure. 

In December, this process came to a close, with a Grossi draft that contained a checklist of criteria including on separation of civil and military facilities, IAEA safeguards, commitment not use transfers for military purposes, commitment on no nuclear test, support CTBT, and that India would not stop other non-NPT members like Pakistan if they fulfilled the conditions. 

India would have little trouble with these criteria, but would not go beyond the commitment made by former foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2008. On CTBT, India maintains its position that it is "committed to a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing" as was articulated after the 1998 tests and affirmed by Mukherjee in 2008. 

India has recently quibbled with the word "criteria", with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj saying, "we prefer that we are judged not on criteria but on our credentials." The difference is minuscule. India is seeking to burnish those credentials by ramping up its civilian nuclear capacity, adding 10 new 700 MW reactors with domestic industry playing a big role. 

In his answers to TOI, Eltschinger emphasised the "non-discriminatory" nature of the exercise, a nod to the Chinese official position, promising to play a "neutral, transparent and inclusive" role. "Such a membership should be based on common, objective and non-discriminatory commitments with respect to nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy." 

Meanwhile, PM Modi worked on Germany and Spain during his recent European tour and even dropped a quiet word in Xi Jinping's ear in Astana. In 2016, the Chinese had objected to the energetic lobbying at the top level, saying that wasn't "their way". Countries like the Netherlands, also on India's side, have been working on holdouts like Ireland and Austria. 

Last year, India managed to get into MTCR by stealth diplomacy. This year, it appears to be trying it out for the NSG, though with little chances of success this time around. It was to dampen expectations that Swaraj said: "sometime, somewhere, we will overcome." 

(This article was originally published in The Times of India

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