Governance · International Affairs

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG): The New Delhi Membership Drama

NSG has been in the news a lot recently. We can find articles on India and its struggle to get into the NSG and China not supporting this agenda. But, what is the NSG, why does India need to get its membership, why is China opposing India’s entry into the group and why is NSG membership important for India in the first place. Let’s start off by knowing what NSG is.

What is NSG?

Nuclear Suppliers Group or NSG is a group of 48 nations that came together to form  guidelines to “ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and that international trade and cooperation in the nuclear field is not hindered unjustly in the process” (Nuclear Suppliers Group).

The group was formed when India, in 1974, even after being a Non-Nuclear Weapons State and not signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty, tested a nuclear weapon in Pokhran. The NSG guidelines are also compliant with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1970. This treaty consisted of 5 Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and several Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). The treaty was signed to regulate the manufacture and trade of nuclear weapons around the world. The NWS consisted of the United States of America, the United Kingdoms, China, Russia and France. These countries had the sole power to manufacture and export nuclear weapons. A total of 191 countries were the members of this treaty. Under this treaty, the five NWS “committed to pursuing general and complete disarmament, while the NNWS agreed to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons” (Kimball, 2012). Only those countries that “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967” were considered as NWS. This became a problem for countries like India, Pakistan, Israel and South Sudan who developed their nuclear weapons later that 1967. This meant that even if they joined the treaty, they would have had to surrender all their nuclear developments and become an NNWS. This would have restricted India to develop any nuclear weapons in the future and would have made it dependent upon other countries for nuclear supplies.

India’s Nuclear Journey

India’s nuclear program was “conceived in the pre-independence era by a small group of influential scientists, notably Homi Bhabha, who grasped the significance of nuclear energy and persuaded political leaders to invest resources in the nuclear sector” (Homi Bhabha Reseach Center). In 1944, Homi Bhabha proposed a plan to the Dorab Tata Trust (founded by Sir Dorab Tata, uncle of Homi Bhabha) to set up a nuclear research institute. This institute came into being shortly before independence with Bhabha as its first director, and was named the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR). The then Congress government led by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru passed the Atomic Energy Act, 1948 on 15 April 1948. Under this Act, a Department of Atomic Energy was established in 1954 and a 3-stage progress was chalked out to establish a nuclear plan. The first stage comprised of employed Pressurised Heavy-Water Reactors (PHWR) fuelled by natural uranium to generate electricity and produce plutonium as a by-product. The second stage consisted of using fast breeder reactors burning the plutonium to breed U-233 from thorium and the third stage was to develop this and to produce surplus fissile material (Kakodkar, 2002).

After India’s defeat against China in 1962, India started making its own nuclear weapons in secrecy. The first nuclear device was designed under the guidance of Homi Bhabha with the ascent of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi. The testing took place in Pokhran in 1974 and was said to be a ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ by the government (Pillalamari, 2015). This testing, however, created great controversies all around the world. India was not a member of the NTP and was not supposed to do any such nuclear activity. After this explosion, India was seen as a potential nuclear threat worldwide and was called a ‘nuclear weapons-capable state’. And as a consequence, the United States took the initiative of forming the NSG with 48 other countries joining it. The Pokhran test was viewed as the ‘violation of peaceful use-agreement’. The US imposed a lot of sanctions against India, and India did not test any other weapon until 1998. In 1998, India conducted two tests, one on May 11 and the second on May 13. After this test, India became a ‘nuclear-weapon state’.

India continues to develop its own nuclear weapons. After the 1998 testing, India formed the National Security Advisory Board which drafted a doctrine that outlined the country’s ‘no-first-use’ policy. The no-first-use policy is basically a confirmation given by a state that it would not, under any situation use their nuclear weapons first unless, used for retaliating against the biological or chemical attack by any other state or states (Pillalamari, 2015). Thus, India maintains very strict rules for using nuclear weapons. The weapons are under the strict guidance of a body named the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) which is headed by the Prime Minister who “is the sole body which can authorise the use of nuclear weapons” and consists of an Executive Counsel which “provides inputs for decision-making… and executes the directives given to it by the Political Council.” (Ministry of External Affairs, 2003).

Why does India want to be part of NSG?

India, as stated above is now being recognised as a ‘nuclear weapons state’ and yet, is not a member of any of the treaties which control nuclear power. According to the NSG website, NSG is a group of “nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of Guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports”. This is one of the main reasons why India wants to be a part of the NSG. Once it attains the membership, it will be capable of manufacturing and exporting its indigenous nuclear weapons in the world. This will make India one of the mainstream countries and help in joining the ‘elite pool’ of the sector.

Since 2008, when NSG allowed India to buy nuclear reactors from around the world, India has upheld all the rules and regulations of the NSG guidelines. Never has it gone out of the way and done anything to violate the rules that apply to all the 48 states.

When the US-India agreement occurred in 2008, it let India get nuclear technology only from the US. If India becomes the member of the NSG, it will be able to use technology and reactors from the rest of the 47 states.

With Make In India being one of the major concerns, joining NSG will mean bringing nuclear companies from around the world to India which will furthermore increase its nuclear base, generate employment and help in meeting the requirements of the defence sector. It will increase the production of nuclear weapons and make India self-sufficient in arms and ammunitions. This, in turn will save up a lot of money that the state is spending in importing these weapons. Apparently, in the year 2010, India was spending 3 times the money spent by Pakistan and China on importing arms and ammunitions. It was and still remains the largest importer of arms and ammunitions in the world.

Also, if India becomes a member of the NSG the one thing it can obviously do is try to block Pakistan’s entry into the group; the same way in which China is doing for India right now. Pakistan has never been behind India when it comes to the nuclear sector. It was also one of those countries that did not sign the NPT.

Why does China not want India to join the NSG?

The reasons for China not allowing India to be a member of NSG are both political and personal. China has close relations with India’s arch-rival, Pakistan and it is anticipated by a lot of countries that China secretly supplies weapons to Pakistan. Allowing India into the NSG would mean that India would now have the power to block Pakistan’s entry. Its entry would allow India to officially become a nuclear power state that would be able to export nuclear weapons. This will be a huge profit for India in the race of becoming a super power.

There are a lot of political reasons as well. China’s main argument for not letting India in, is basically “norm-based” (Swami, 2016). China says that India was not the part of the NPT and hence cannot be the part of NSG. So, if India gets an entry, all other countries who were not the part of NPT should too. However, this argument falls down, as being a member of the NPT is just a requisite but not a strict condition or necessity for being able to obtain the membership of NSG. If India gets a membership, China wants Pakistan to be granted the same.

If India gets the membership, India’s nuclear market will expand which will be a major decline in China’s nuclear market. This will mean that India would be able to save a lot on its military supplies too.

China’s reasons for not letting India into the NSG are mostly vague and weaken due to lack of concrete reasons. But since, it is a member of NSG and is a nuclear weapons state, its approval is a must. Recently, India got a membership in the MTCR. Back in 2004, China was denied the MTCR membership. The MTCR or Missile Technology Control Regime is an “informal political understanding among states that seek to limit the proliferation of missiles and missile technology” (MTCR). It was an initiative taken by seven countries and now consists of 34 countries. India said that it would support China’s bid for MTCR if it gets the same for the NSG. India needs to make sure that China supports its NSG membership. Otherwise, it will never be able to get into NSG.

By: Aditi Nandanwar


Homi Bhabha Reseach Center. (n.d.). About Us;

Kakodkar, A. (2002). Nuclear Power in India: An Inevitable Option for Sustainable Development of a Sixth of Humanity. WNA Symposium. London: World Nuclear Association.

Kimball, D. (2012). The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at a Glance; Fact Sheets and Briefs. Arms Control Association;

Ministry of External Affairs. (2003). The Press release: Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Operationalization of India’s Nuclear Doctrine.

MTCR. (n.d.). FAQs. Missile Technology Control Regime.

Nuclear Suppliers Group. (n.d.). About Us.

Pillalamari, A. (2015, April 22). India’s Nuclear-Weapons Program: 5 Things You Need to Know. The National Interest, p. 2.

Swami, P. (2016, June 10). What are MTCR and NSG, and why does India want to be their part. The Indian Express.

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