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Tensions Between India And Pakistan May Rise Over Nuclear Deal

India Nuclear Power

Nuclear Suppliers Group backgrounder

At the recent visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. in May 2016, the closer relationship between the U.S. and India was clear. A logical step forward was further seen when U.S. President Obama stated his approval for India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While this would be a great move for overall worldwide security and nuclear non-proliferation, there is a danger of greater tensions between India and Pakistan.

As an international group with a current membership of 48 countries, the NSG seeks to control the export and transport of nuclear materials, equipment and technology in an effort to prevent nuclear proliferation. It sets global rules for international trade in nuclear energy technology. Only NSG members are allowed to transport the material.

Any non-members face huge restrictions on their use and transport of nuclear material. This explains why Iran, a non-member, received sanctions and resultant controversy over its nuclear programme prior to the recent nuclear deal. Ironically, the NSG was first founded in 1974 in the wake of India’s nuclear test and first met in November 1975.

In effect, the NSG is a body to control the global nuclear industry. Significant members include the USA, Russia, the UK, Japan, Germany, France, South Korea and China. These are all states which have nuclear weapons or have a significant history with nuclear weapons as well as Cold War tensions associated with them. Ultimately the NSG is another potential body, along with the UN, NATO and the European Union, which can help to maintain peace and solve international disputes. Related: Long Term Outlook For Canadian Oil Sands Looks Bright

Indo-Pakistani nuclear troubles

India’s joining the NSG is significant because of its past history with nuclear weapons and the consequential tensions with its neighbour and rival Pakistan. India’s first successful nuclear weapons test in 1974 was met with alarm in the international community. The NSG’s formation soon afterward reflected this alarm.

Tensions with Pakistan logically increased again and it is arguably because of India developing nuclear technology that Pakistan decided to pursue that technology as well. This animosity resulted in the two countries’ first successful nuclear weapons test in 1998. The Cold War theme of mutually assured destruction and the nuclear arms race seen between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was effectively played out again on a smaller scale.

Fears of nuclear war between India and Pakistan were high and it is still feasible in the present day. India’s joining the NSG will therefore be a positive move towards potentially stopping that. What will likely happen, and is already happening to some extent, is a closer relationship between the USA and India, economically and politically.

This will probably result in India moving further into the U.S. sphere of influence. The expansion of India’s nuclear industry is also possible and would be a strong move to meeting the energy needs of a growing population. This is relevant in a country where consistent electricity with no power cuts is still a luxury. Overall it would be a positive development.

However, the wider implications of India’s initiation into the NSG are less positive. Ultimately it has isolated Pakistan and put an end to any future talks between Pakistan and India, at least for now. This move could also push Pakistan closer to China, India’s current economic, and in some cases, political rival. Related: Giant Helium Find May Spell Trouble For Tanzania

The USA’s reluctance to let Pakistan into the NSG as well, which Pakistan is now requesting, shows the underlying suspicions and mistrust of Pakistan. This stems from Pakistan’s past history with groups such as the Taliban and figures such as Osama bin Laden. It’s also a result of long-running issues in Pakistan such as corruption and the power of the military.

For India, Pakistan’s history with nuclear technology is a source of concern given unconfirmed rumors that the head of Pakistan’s nuclear programme sold secrets to Iran and North Korea. Overall, if India’s ascension to the NSG is confirmed, then it would move closer to the West. This would happen simultaneously with Pakistan’s closer alignment with China and nuclear weapons-based tensions could reemerge on the subcontinent.

In conclusion, the U.S. support of India joining the NSG is a story which has not been publicised much, but is one which could be extremely significant for the U.S., India, Pakistan, China, and the Middle East region as well. The Cold War may have ended more than 20 years ago, but its legacy remains. From an economic perspective, India’s NSG ascension would continue the trend under Modi of making India much more attractive to international investment.

By Rayhan Chouglay via Global Risk Insights

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