On Tuesday, June 7, President Obama met with India’s leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to discuss the State’s emergence as a formidable actor in the international system and to reflect on the two countries’ shared interests in trade, defense and energy. This visit arrived in the midst of India’s current bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)–a 48-nation body, which oversees trade in nuclear-related exports and endeavors to protect civilian nuclear trade from military purposes (1). Most notably, this meeting highlights a persistent yet evolving security dilemma in Southeast Asia between India and Pakistan that threatens regional stability.
A leader in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the US, in particular, has fervently expressed its support for Indian membership to the NSG. Indian membership would not only further cement the country’s standing as a global power but also, as some analysts suggest, fulfill President Obama’s pivot east to contain China and its ally, Pakistan. Specifically, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea has motivated the Obama Administration to diplomatically forge a strong, defensive relationship with India (2). Ostensibly, the US seeks to promote stability in the region; however, its support for Indian membership to the NSG has exacerbated tensions between India and Pakistan–two perennial adversaries. In the wake of India’s bid to join this body, Pakistan has indicated that Indian membership would increase the likelihood of a nuclear arms race and, more recently, suggested that it will give Pakistani military commanders access to battlefield nuclear weapons, in the event of India’s membership (3). Beyond concerns of this evolving security dilemma, critics of the United States’ support for Indian membership to the NSG point to the fact that India has ratified neither the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Ratification of these treaties has traditionally been the litmus test for NSG membership. India, however, remains resolved in its effort to avoid legal obligation that would limit its ability to produce fissile material and test nuclear weapons (4). In 2008, the Bush administration struck a deal with India that allowed the country to trade in nuclear materials without the obligation to sign and ratify the aforementioned treaties (5).
As a June 20 meeting in Seoul to evaluate India’s application for NSG membership looms, the international community must consider how the acceptance of India to the NSG would upset the nuclear balance of power between India and Pakistan and contribute to the deterioration of regional security, overall. Although fragile, Pakistan deserves consideration for the NSG, as well. The country is party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and is subject to close scrutiny from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (6). Mutual constraint in the form of NSG membership for both countries and acceptance of the relevant treaties promise to most effectively mitigate the threat of further regional instability.
(1) Ayub Sumbal, Malik. "India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group." The Diplomat. Trans Asia Inc., 14 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 June 2016.
(2) Hussain, Tom. "Obama's Pivot East Fuels an Asian Cold War." Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera Media Network, 12 June 2016. Web. 14 June 2016.
(3) "Obama Administration Defends Decision To Back India's NSG Membership." NDTV.com. New Delhi Television Limited, 25 May 2016. Web. 14 June 2016.
(4) "No Exceptions for a Nuclear India." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 June 2016. Web. 14 June 2016.
(6) Regehr, Ernie. "India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group: Time for Plan B."Project Ploughshares. Project Ploughshares, n.d. Web. 16 June 2016.
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