MUMBAI: In 2016, India’s bid for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) generated considerable interest and debate, both at home and within the international non-proliferation community. India’s push was a natural follow-up to the 2008 exceptional waiver granted by the NSG to India, though the political judgement regarding the timing was questionable, given the shift in China’s position between 2008 and 2016. The stand-off at the Seoul plenary in June 2016 generated controversy in India because nuclear-related issues enjoy greater play in domestic politics. In comparison, India’s engagement with other export control regimes – Australia Group (AG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) – has attracted less attention, though India’s policy towards all four export control regimes is consistent, its evolution being part of the same organic policy shift. All four export control regimes are informal in character; these are not treaty-based undertakings but rather arrangements among groups of like-minded countries. The reason that India’s quest for NSG membership exposed such sharp differences within the NSG has less to do with India’s bid, and more about NSG’s origins in the aftermath of the 1974 Indian peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE), its ambiguous relationship with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the changing geopolitics overshadowing the politics of nuclear non-proliferation.
This paper seeks to analyse the NSG issue as part of the larger picture of India’s policy on non-proliferation-related export control regimes and its evolution in a generic sense, together with the origins and development of the four regimes. While the purpose is not merely to provide a chronological account, a historical approach is being employed to capture the policy shifts as India sought to reconcile its interests with the political changes taking place in the region and beyond. During the Cold War, India saw itself as a target of these export control regimes. A shift occurred in the 1990s when India began to introduce its own export controls.