Paths forward for the Nuclear Suppliers Group


The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) occupies an unusual position in the nonproliferation regime: Not mandated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but perhaps necessitated by it, the group decides which countries can purchase nuclear materials and technologies and which nations get shut out. But with the wealthy world (and particularly Europe) accounting for so much of the NSG's membership, it is easy for developing countries to feel that their views are inadequately represented in the group's decision making. This Roundtable invites developing-world experts to analyze the tension at the heart of the NSG and propose solutions to the problem. Below, Rajiv Nayan of India, Kayhan Barzegar of Iran, and Raymund Jose G. Quilop of the Philippines answer this question: How could the policies of the Nuclear Suppliers Group be improved to better take into account the needs and perspectives of developing countries?

Round 1

A view from Southeast Asia

Nuclear technology has always been a contentious issue. The countries that originally took the lead in developing and acquiring nuclear technology understood very clearly the dangers that the technology posed, and have often sought to prevent nuclear know-how from spreading further. Other nations, conscious of the ways in which nuclear technology could benefit them, are often eager to acquire that know-how.

This fraught situation is further complicated by misperceptions and mistrust. Countries that possess nuclear technology can be perceived as wanting to keep technology for themselves so that they can enjoy unfair advantages over everyone else. Countries that attempt to develop nuclear technology, meanwhile, can be suspected of harboring non-peaceful motives.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty assures all states' inherent right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology; at the same time, proliferation of technology and material for weapons production is to be prevented, and nations that already possess nuclear weapons are to disarm. These are the treaty's three pillars, and together they represent the single idea around which the nonproliferation regime has been structured. But some would argue that this idea has remained just that: only an idea, and that none of the three pillars has been fully transformed into reality. The regime's incomplete success explains the "proliferation" of global, multilateral, regional, and subregional efforts to prevent weapons proliferation, promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology, and encourage disarmament. The progress that the treaty has achieved, though very limited in the eyes of some observers, must be acknowledged. The value of various multilateral, regional, and subregional efforts should be acknowledged as well.

Even though the issues that surround state acquisition of nuclear technology have not been settled yet, the threat of non-state actors' gaining access to nuclear technology and material has increasingly come to the fore. This has prompted the world community, which already focused considerable attention on nuclear safety and safeguards, to devote greater attention to nuclear security. Complicating this issue is the risk that nations might provide non-state actors with technology or material — whether directly or indirectly, deliberately or accidentally. But international mechanisms to address the possibility of non-state actors' gaining nuclear technology or material are still in their nascent stages. And if the mechanisms that have long been in place to address illicit state acquisition of nuclear technology and material have not fully succeeded, why should embryonic mechanisms to deal with non-state actors prove more effective?

Supply and demand. Given all this, if the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is to formulate a more effective set of policies for addressing nuclear proliferation, it must contend with several fundamental issues. First, states that embark on nuclear programs for legitimate purposes must not be made to feel that the policies, programs, and efforts of the NSG are meant to constrain and constrict them. Admittedly, this is not an easy task: Export controls are a realm in which differences in perception can be serious stumbling blocks. Proponents of export controls, such as the United States, often emphasize that export controls are not meant to restrict trade of dual-use items (though the NSG itself requires that facilities or activities for which dual-use items are intended must be placed under safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency). But among customer nations, the perception that export controls restrict trade unnecessarily is nonetheless strong. This perception makes it difficult, especially in countries with democratically elected legislatures, to pass export-control laws intended to prevent the re-export or transshipment of dual-use items.

These issues come into play in my own region of Southeast Asia, which is sometimes said to be undergoing a "nuclear renaissance." That is, the number of nations exploring nuclear power as an additional energy source to sustain their economic development is expected to increase over the coming years. Vietnam may bring a nuclear power plant online by 2020, and Indonesia and Malaysia are also seriously considering the adoption of nuclear energy. Amid this activity, it is important that the NSG not be perceived as unduly restricting Southeast Asian nations' energy ambitions.

A second fundamental issue for the NSG is that it must devise better mechanisms for ensuring that the technology and material provided to states for legitimate peaceful purposes are not diverted to states with nuclear ambitions that are not entirely peaceful. (In East Asia, North Korea is often considered a state with sinister nuclear ambitions; it has engaged in illicit deals as a purchaser and perhaps as a provider as well.) The governments with which the NSG deals may not be likely to transfer technology and material directly to states with less benign nuclear motives. But diversion could nonetheless occur.

Third, and relatedly, the NSG must factor in the possibility that states judged to be developing a legitimate nuclear capacity could provide technology and material to non-state actors. In Southeast Asia, this represents a difficult issue. No Southeast Asian state is known to tolerate terrorist groups that have attempted to acquire nuclear materials, but the porousness of borders in the region, along with minimal capacity in nuclear security, makes it difficult to ensure that no illicit shipment or transshipment of nuclear material can take place.

Greater or lesser. The dilemma therefore for the NSG is whether to conduct business with an increasing or decreasing number of states. Dealing with a greater number of states would ensure that the group's stringent nonproliferation standards are enforced in more places, but would also increase the number of avenues through which proliferating states and malicious non-state actors could gain access to technology. Transacting business with fewer states would decrease the number of access points but would also mean that NSG standards were applied in fewer countries. (In any event, states with which the NSG chooses not to conduct business could always turn into states that seek nuclear technology through illicit means.)

The spread of nuclear technology involves complicated dynamics and the interplay of competing forces. But since nuclear technology has already been developed and cannot be undeveloped, the global community — including the Nuclear Suppliers Group — must continue to grapple with how best to control the technology's spread.

Contributions to peace and development, not excessive control

Answering the question that this Roundtable poses — How could the policies of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) be improved to better take into account the needs and perspectives of developing countries? — requires understanding to what extent the NSG has been able to strike a balance between the obligations it imposes on developing nations and the benefits it provides them in return. In other words, do the NSG's policies advance the goals expressed in its guidelines, essentially that nuclear trade should not contribute to proliferation but that international trade and cooperation in the nuclear field should not be unduly hindered? It is no trivial point that the nuclear trade allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) must not be hindered: Such trade is a key element of the nonproliferation regime, and the principles that underlie the regime must not be sacrificed due to the policies of a few countries.

The NSG has taken a number of nonproliferation actions over the decades that have been in line with the objectives of the treaty. But at the same time, the group has imposed constraints on developing countries that only seek to develop peaceful nuclear energy programs for the sake of their sustainable development and economic growth. These constraints, I believe, are not unrelated to the national interests of the United States and France, two countries that enjoy strong commercial positions in the nuclear market and would like to retain those positions.

Overzealousness, discrimination. Electricity demand in developing countries is growing quickly, and this is stimulating interest in nuclear energy. Unfortunately, overzealousness about nonproliferation and global nuclear security — though these concerns are legitimate — is inhibiting nuclear progress in developing countries. Some argue that global expansion of nuclear power is risky because it spreads technologies for making nuclear fuel, something that might give more states the ability to develop nuclear weapons. This argument ignores the very foundations of the treaty. The treaty is designed after all to ensure nonproliferation while at the same time making technology for civilian nuclear power programs widely available. The argument also tends to negate any role for developing countries in the nuclear energy market.

If the guidelines of the NSG had been carefully followed in the past, there would have been little room for discriminatory measures such as imposing excessive restrictions on an NPT signatory like Iran. Nor would the NSG in 2008 have granted an exemption allowing India, which is not a treaty signatory, to participate in nuclear trade. Somewhat similarly, prominent NSG members including the United States have remained largely silent on Israel's nuclear program.

In 1998 the members of the Non-Aligned Movement urged that all signatories to the treaty should "prohibit the transfer of all nuclear-related equipment, information, material and facilities, resources or devices, and the extension of know-how or any kind of assistance in the nuclear, scientific, or technological fields" to Israel, due to its not being a party to the treaty and its not having placed its nuclear activities under full IAEA safeguards. A decade later, the Non-Aligned Movement might have urged the same thing regarding India — but India was granted its waiver. This amounts to nuclear discrimination. The NSG enforces a double standard, focusing too much on proliferation issues in some developing countries while engaging in double standards when it comes to a country like India. This weakens the credibility of the group.

Balance and cooperation. The NSG's main challenge today is deciding how to balance the economic and proliferation aspects of nuclear transfers, all the while without violating its own guidelines or running afoul of its own objectives. It should be noted that developing countries, when they joined the treaty regime, placed great stock in the prospect of benefitting from peaceful nuclear transfers for the sake of their sustainable development and also placed great stock in comprehensive disarmament that would enhance their security. Therefore, the NSG should balance its proliferation focus with increased focus on the other two pillars of the NPT — comprehensive disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The NSG could promote disarmament by providing nuclear weapon states with technical assistance and promoting cooperation among them. Such an initiative would help dispel distrust in developing nations. Today, however, significant suspicion exists that the NSG has promoted the interests of certain Western countries in order to preserve those countries' preponderance of legal, technical, and political power within the NPT regime. Pursuing policies that have this effect can only lead to increased frustration in developing countries, which could ultimately result in the collapse of the NPT.

The NSG should make greater efforts to foster regional cooperation in nuclear energy. Developing countries, many of them reaching the conclusion that sustainable development depends on diversified sources of energy, are increasingly interested in nuclear power. Good examples of this exist in the Middle East. In this region, where political and ideological differences among states inhibit cooperation, the NSG could make a valuable contribution by facilitating nuclear energy cooperation, instead of focusing so intently on proliferation issues. In this way, the Nuclear Suppliers Group could help foster peace and stability in the region.

Adapting to the 21st century

In the years since it was established in 1975, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has emerged as a comprehensive multilateral export-control regime for nuclear materials and technology. Another regime, the Zangger Committee, held its first meeting four years before the NSG came into existence, but it is the NSG that has demonstrated greater dynamism and has emerged as more relevant since the end of the Cold War.

The Zangger Committee was established to help signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) understand the technical issues related to transfers of nuclear materials and technology. But the committee did not include countries that were not signatories to the treaty; one such nation was France. The NSG, established as a complement to the committee, brought nations like France into the control regime. (France would accede to the treaty and also join the Zangger Committee in 1992).

In my own country of India, many people believed that the entire idea of bringing France into the nuclear control framework was to neutralize the power of Gaullism in France's economic and technology policies abroad. That is, France had often resisted the policies toward the developing world of other Western nations, and Paris's Gaullist impulses could be co-opted by bringing France into the NSG. In India, the Zangger Committee and the NSG were both understood as regimes for denying technology to the developing world — as undesirable barricades that blocked the flow of goods and technology to countries pursuing economic development through peaceful nuclear energy programs. A segment of Indian government and civil society continues to understand the systems in this fashion.

In the club. The nature of any organization's membership reflects that organization's value system. And for any body or organizational entity — whether national or international, formal or informal, large or small — the nature of its membership is important to its effectiveness and efficacy. When an organization is international, not to mention informal like the NSG, the group's objectives must be internationally acceptable. Therefore, in order for the NSG's decision making to gain international acceptance, the regime's membership must be representative of the world community.

Interestingly, though the NSG was barely active if not dormant during much of the Cold War, its membership grew. By 1991, membership had grown to 27 from the original seven, with some Eastern European countries among the new additions. Today, the NSG has 46 members, but it nonetheless needs to diversify its stakeholders. The group's membership manifests a distinct bias toward the developed world in general and Europe in particular. Well over 30 members are European: Not all of these belong to the European Union, but only a few of them are classified as developing by the World Bank. Beyond Europe, the developed world gains further representation from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Among Asia's four NSG members — China, Japan, Kazakhstan, and South Korea — only two are developing nations. Meanwhile, Latin America is represented only by Argentina and Brazil, and Africa by South Africa alone.

Many observers have predicted that the 21st century will prove to be the Asian century. Though only a few Asian countries qualify as developed today, Asia, with its rising powers, is the continent that promises to shape a new global order. Moreover, Asia is a continent with large, fast-growing economies that will demand a great deal of energy — including nuclear energy.

Since the 1990s, nuclear energy's expansion has been noticeable in Asia and developing countries elsewhere. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) notes that "of the 29 countries considering or planning for nuclear power in 2012, 10 are from the Asia and the Pacific region, 10 are from the Africa region, seven are in Europe (mostly Eastern Europe), and two are in Latin America." Another IAEA publication, from 2008, reports that "a total of 20 of the 35 plants under construction are in Asia, while 28 of the last 39 plants connected to the grid are also in Asia." Since 2008, Asian countries have ordered additional reactors and connected a few more to the grid. All this clearly argues for greater Asian participation in the nuclear export-control regime.

Old battles, new challenges. In the early days of the NSG's membership expansion, the countries that produced nuclear goods and services, and the countries that decided which nations gained access to those goods and services, were one and the same. But many countries with a limited role in nuclear commerce have since gained membership in the group. Meanwhile, several countries that are capable of contributing to the objectives of the NSG have been left out of the group and even subjected to stringent rules for nuclear transactions. Today, several countries that have mastered the nuclear fuel cycle are not members of the group. And certain other countries, which may not have mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle but still possess resources or expertise valuable to one or more stages of the fuel cycle, have not gained membership either.

Going forward, the NSG will have to reflect emerging trends in the global nuclear power industry. New producers will have to become controllers: Otherwise, the group might be undermined, and its ability to accomplish its objectives will be severely constrained. The NSG will have to make a decision about what it wants to be in the 21st century. Does it want to fight old battles, or meet new challenges?

Developing countries have long complained that multilateral export control regimes stunt their economic development. Today, the NSG's control list has become almost universal. Much of the international community has developed an understanding that peaceful nuclear development and responsible control of nuclear technology and materials must go hand in hand; any imbalance between these two imperatives will imperil the development of civilian nuclear energy. The NSG would also do well to start striking a better balance between economic development and nuclear controls. The group should send a signal that it does not oppose development of peaceful nuclear energy, even as it remains strongly opposed to proliferation and proliferation networks.

The NSG will have to identify which countries are its partners, and which are the focuses of its nonproliferation efforts. In 2004, the group made a mistake by extending membership to China. True, China is a rising economic power that has grand plans for expanding its nuclear energy capability, and Beijing has joined all the key nonproliferation arrangements. But China's nonproliferation record is dubious: It is suspected by many of exporting technologies related to weapons to mass destruction. Meanwhile, and unfortunately, the NSG has not partnered with certain countries, such as India, that share its objectives, abide by international nonproliferation norms, and possess strong capabilities in civilian nuclear energy.

Round 2

Original mission, or expanded goals

Reading my colleagues' first-round essays only reinforces my sense that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is at a crossroads. As Rajiv Nayan aptly puts it, the "NSG will have to make a decision … [whether to] fight old battles or meet new challenges." Indeed, the choice that the NSG faces is similar to that which any organization might face at a certain moment in its existence: whether to continue pursuing the mission for which is was established, while running the risk of becoming less relevant, or to adapt to a changed environment, at the risk of losing sight of its original purpose. If the NSG controls access to nuclear technology too tightly, and access to such technology spreads despite the group's efforts, the group could lose its relevance. If it expands its membership or loosens controls on technology too fast, it may cease to be an effective export control regime.

Because the NSG was established primarily to control the spread of nuclear technology and materials, the group is generally associated with nonproliferation instead of with the other two pillars of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The NSG's nonproliferation focus is an aspect of the group that observers, including the participants in this Roundtable, simply have to accept. But precisely because the group is essentially a nonproliferation mechanism, perceptions abound that the NSG practices nuclear discrimination. (Kayhan Barzegar in his first essay argued ably that this discrimination is real at times.) This is a reality that the NSG itself must take seriously.

A possible remedy for these perceptions of discrimination would be an expansion of the group's membership. But expansion could be a double-edged sword. While expansion could spread the values that the NSG has always espoused to a broader range of countries and could make the group more relevant to a strategic environment that has evolved tremendously since 1975, it could also undermine the group — for instance, if a new member behaves in a fashion inconsistent with the NSG's principles. And it must be remembered that the group's membership has expanded a good deal already. Therefore, what the group perhaps ought to do is develop a clearer set of qualifications for membership, and only then consider expansion. Even this, though, would not guarantee that future members would always act in accordance with the organization's values. Member nations are states after all, and national interest will always help drive their actions.

Complement, not supplant. My own sense is that the NSG should continue to focus on the nonproliferation goals that brought its members together in the first place (though of course the group must give due consideration to the needs of countries that require nuclear technology and materials for peaceful development). An expansion of membership might be appropriate in due time, but for now a premium should be placed on deepening cooperation among the group's existing members.

At the end of the day, even though the NSG is international in character, the group should be seen as and appreciated for what it is — a sub-global body that exists to complement, not perform the functions of, global institutions that are mandated with promoting all three pillars of the NPT.

Remembering what’s complementary, what’s central

In their first round-essays, the three authors in this Roundtable asserted two things in common, albeit in different ways: first, that a narrow line separates peaceful nuclear activities from nuclear proliferation, and it is critical that members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) strike a balance between the two; and second, that the NSG should make greater efforts to foster cooperation in nuclear energy in order to help address developing nations' growing demand for energy in the service of sustainable development.

Raymund Jose G. Quilop notes a burgeoning "nuclear renaissance" in Southeast Asia. Something similar is occurring in the Middle East, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hoping to bring its first reactor on line in 2017 and Saudi Arabia entertaining ambitious plans for a nuclear sector of its own. The UAE has signed a well-publicized nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, and Saudi Arabia has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with countries including France, Argentina, China, and South Korea.

But in the nuclear arena, politics can interfere with technological transfers, as Iran's nuclear program demonstrates. Since the stand-off over the program began in 2002, differences between Iran's viewpoint and those of some prominent Western members of the NSG (the United States, France, Britain, and Germany) have caused the dispute to go beyond the realm of national prerogatives and the need for greater energy supplies. The impasse has become connected instead to larger issues of regional and international security.

No confusion. Commenting on the stand-off, my colleague Rajiv Nayan asserted that in my first essay I confused the functions of the NSG and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). I suffer from no such confusion. The NSG was created to complement the treaty, but in the course of carrying out its activities it has become an instrument for implementing a discriminatory nonproliferation regime. In so doing, it has weakened one of the treaty's pillars — the idea that peaceful uses of nuclear energy should be encouraged. This happens to be the pillar that matters most to developing countries.

The NSG, of course, was established as an attempt by a number of NPT signatories to prevent the diversion of materials that could be used to manufacture a nuclear weapon, but two fundamental issues concerning the group's relationship with the treaty regime must not be forgotten. First, it is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that is entrusted with carrying out nuclear safeguards and that monitors whether or not a country adheres to the treaty's provisions. Second, the first legal obligation of NSG members is to the treaty itself — and the treaty prevents nuclear transfers that would allow non-nuclear weapon states to acquire nuclear weapons. This obligation would seem to be violated by the waiver that the NSG granted to India in 2008. Meanwhile, the NSG refuses to conduct business with Iran, a treaty signatory, and thus it fails to operate within the spirit of the NPT, the very treaty it is intended to complement.

Nayan also writes that "Iran's proliferation record is mixed, and this is the reason for its current difficulties." Here he repeats the assertions of some nuclear weapon states, missing the fact that Iran's difficulties with the West are more related to politics than to transfers of nuclear technology per se. The impasse over Iran's nuclear program must be considered in the broader context of Middle East politics, and especially Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region.

No one can deny that Iran has long been a keen supporter of the treaty. Nor that Iran's nuclear activities operate under IAEA oversight. Again, the squabble about Iran's nuclear program has more to do with the country's stance on strategic and security issues than with its proliferation track record. Tehran has had opportunities in the past to withdraw from the treaty but has chosen to stay within it, for the sake of transparency and of acting within the international safeguards system. Indeed, under Article X, Iran might have legitimately withdrawn from the treaty after India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in 1998.

Confidence, trust, and balance

The three essays published in this Roundtable so far have all affirmed the need for responsible control of commerce in nuclear technology and goods. All the authors would like for nuclear commerce to flow smoothly toward countries with new or emerging nuclear power sectors, and all would like to minimize circumstances that impede that flow.

But in the nuclear arena, tragic events can interfere with commerce. After the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, decades passed before a new nuclear power project gained approval in the United States. And an incident like the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station can disrupt nuclear commerce far from where it occurs. Fukushima, for instance, has adversely affected the nuclear energy sector in India, a nation whose highly ambitious program for nuclear energy expansion has faced recent challenges in the form of protests over the planned Kudankulam and Jaitapur facilities.

But nuclear safety is in many ways interconnected with nuclear security and safeguards. Before Fukushima, safety had started to seem less controversial. The accident brought the issue back into focus — just when nuclear security was gaining a higher profile in global politics because of the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Thus, at the successor summit in 2012, efforts were made to combine nuclear security and nuclear safety. Safeguards, meanwhile, are always an important issue for nuclear commerce because commerce occurs in an international context characterized by the existence of nuclear weapons. This is no less true in the aftermath of Fukushima, as some countries' plans for expansion of nuclear energy are managing to overcome the challenges posed by the accident.

Points of disagreement. My Roundtable colleagues and I agree on many points, such as that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and its guidelines should build confidence not only among supplier nations but among the international community more broadly. Nonetheless — though I sympathize with my colleague Kayhan Barzegar's concerns that NSG policies may result in discrimination — I take issue with some of his statements. In my view, when he says, "If the guidelines of the NSG had been carefully followed … there would have been little room for discriminatory measures … [against] an NPT signatory like Iran," he confuses the functions of the NSG and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Actually, there is limited correlation between the two institutions, but Barzegar seems to believe that Iran's problems vis-à-vis the treaty might somehow be solved through the policies of the NSG.

Nor do I see much room for connecting the 2008 waiver that India received from the group with the NSG's restrictions on trade with Iran. India, though it is a nuclear-armed state outside the treaty, has signed on to a number of important global nonproliferation initiatives and its record on proliferation is considered mostly clean. Iran's proliferation record is mixed, and this is the reason for its current difficulties. Indeed, I would argue that Iran is complicating nuclear trade for other nations — Tehran's nuclear program causes undue suspicion to fall on everyone else.

In his essay, meanwhile, Raymund Jose G. Quilop discusses the misperceptions and mistrust that characterize relations between countries that possess nuclear technology and those that don't. But the real issue is building the entire world's trust in new recipients of nuclear technology. Everyone understands that some possessors of nuclear technology could engage in proliferation, but the risk of proliferation can't be eliminated by restricting nuclear technology to a small number of nations; instead, efforts should be made to ensure that countries in possession of nuclear technology enter the ranks of responsible controllers of technology. As globalization disperses economic activity around the world, energy sources must be dispersed as well, and limiting the number of countries with nuclear power doesn't solve any problems. In fact, it may turn out that demand for nuclear energy will determine how many countries possess nuclear technology and goods, and not the other way around.

New nuclear energy actors must of course work to guarantee that irresponsible non-state actors, especially terrorists, do not get their hands on nuclear technology. I agree with Quilop that significant attention needs to be paid to issues such as re-export and transshipment controls. But in order to ensure that nuclear technology both spreads and is used for responsible ends, the NSG must strike a new and broadly acceptable balance between commercial and security interests. If this is to be achieved, the NSG itself must be restructured.

Round 3

Confronting unavoidable realities

Let's face it: The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is widely perceived as an exclusionary mechanism. And perhaps that's what it really is. In this Roundtable, expansion of the group's membership has been a major topic of discussion, but the NSG will continue to be perceived as exclusionary even if it extends membership to all countries that possess both nuclear materials and nuclear know-how, for the simple reason that only a limited number of countries meet both those conditions.

Larger membership, far from changing negative perceptions of the group, might only indicate that the NSG has failed in its mission to discourage nuclear proliferation. That is, if any country that gains access to nuclear material and technology, no matter through what means, can ultimately become a member of the NSG, the group will have done little to control the spread of sensitive materials and technologies. Possession of nuclear material and know-how cannot be the sole criterion for gaining membership. This, in part, is why I argued in my second essay that a clear set of parameters for admitting new members to the group should be established.

My colleague Kayhan Barzegar suggests that it might be practicable to bring Iran into the NSG so that it could "share valuable lessons from its nuclear experience." But though a country like Iran may gain access to nuclear material and technology, it is not in a political position to share material and technology with other nations through nuclear commerce, which is another way of saying that it will find no place in a suppliers group. Nuclear newcomers, including Iran, could consider forming a Nuclear Users Group. But such a group would find that it had little business to conduct.

I also differ with my colleague Rajiv Nayan when he writes that nuclear commerce rather than nonproliferation should be the NSG's principal focus. Nonproliferation has always been the group's main reason for being, even if many people think the NSG has largely failed in its nonproliferation efforts, and it is my view that nonproliferation should continue in a central role.

A price too high. A question not addressed in this Roundtable so far is how vigorously developing nations should pursue nuclear energy to begin with. Nations of course have the right to develop nuclear power sectors, and my colleagues are correct in pointing out that many developing countries must increase their energy supplies if their economies are to continue maturing. But nuclear energy is often a poor choice for countries in the developing world.

Constructing nuclear power plants is not cheap. Developing the technical knowledge necessary for establishing and operating a nuclear sector isn't cheap either. If social costs like nuclear waste are figured in, nuclear power can turn out to be more expensive than other available forms of alternative energy. Some nations may choose to pursue nuclear energy because they want to join the club of countries that have mastered nuclear technology, but if that is the prize, it is quite an expensive prize to pursue.

The NSG itself must face a troublesome fact: Nations with nuclear ambitions, if they cannot obtain nuclear material or technology through the group, will probably be able in this day and age to obtain what they want somewhere else. This is the real challenge facing the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

An exclusive club with a hidden agenda

I began this Roundtable believing that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a discriminatory export-control regime, and my conviction hasn't wavered. Indeed, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is itself discriminatory at heart, and supplemental mechanisms like the NSG only compound the problem. As my colleague Rajiv Nayan correctly asserted in his final essay, the NSG focuses too much on the nonproliferation aspect of the treaty and too little on encouraging nuclear commerce.

For developing nations, the NSG has over time lost much of its relevance because it has not adapted to a changing world. Today, many developing countries are on the verge of major technological transformations. Their economies are becoming more advanced, and they require sources of energy like nuclear power to help them continue their development. The NSG should adapt to this new reality and make greater efforts to meet the expectations of the developing world.

Instead, the group continues to punish a country like Iran for its long-ago failure to report in a timely manner nuclear activities at the Natanz facility. Failures of this type are not unique; other countries have made the same mistakes and have been forgiven when the mistakes were rectified. Examples include Egypt, which in 2005 was cited by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for failing to report on experiments and inventories at its Nuclear Chemistry Building, and South Korea, which, according to a 2004 agency report, had failed to disclose past research that could have contributed to a weapons program. In Iran's case, however, punishment has never stopped. (I'd like to emphasize that Iran's failure to disclose activities at the Natanz site was just that, a failure to disclose in a timely fashion — and not a serious violation that deserves ongoing harsh treatment by members of the NSG.)

Meanwhile, North Korea's recent nuclear test shines a light on the intrinsic discrimination within the NPT system. That is, it shows that a country determined to rebel against a discriminatory system cannot be deterred from its nuclear ambitions by international sanctions and mechanisms like the NSG, and indeed that harsh international pressure only makes matters worse. North Korea's test should serve as a wake-up call for those would sacrifice the original spirit of the NPT to a narrow set of political goals.

If it wishes to change with the times, the NSG should make its decision-making processes more transparent. It should transform itself into something other than an exclusive club with a hidden agenda, one that enforces its conditions ever more tightly. It should also extend membership to a greater number of developing countries. The developing world enjoys inadequate representation in the group, and this skewed membership is the crux of the group's problems. It creates mistrust between the developed and developing worlds and ultimately weakens the foundations of the treaty.

Here I diverge with my colleague Raymund Jose G. Quilop, who has expressed concern that new NSG members might behave in a fashion inconsistent with the group's principles and values. My question is: What principles and values? The values and principles that were created mostly to preserve Western dominance within the nonproliferation regime, and dominance over the legal and technical standards that are enforced by the IAEA? If these are the values and principles in question, behaving inconsistently with them ought to be considered a good thing.

Moreover, though new NSG members will certainly consider their national interests as they make decisions about nuclear commerce, they will also, over time, adapt to international norms as expressed through mechanisms like the NSG. And they will contribute to the group by bringing their own perspectives to bear on the group's decision-making process. Iran, for example, can share valuable lessons from its nuclear experience — lessons about developing countries' rights, regional cooperation in nuclear energy, and comprehensive regional disarmament.

An appropriate balance among the NPT's three pillars — nonproliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and comprehensive disarmament — can still be achieved, but only if NSG members and developing nations can establish a mutually beneficial basis for cooperation. Realizing the treaty's full potential requires that the distrust between the NSG and the developing world be mitigated.

How both sides win

With this Roundtable nearing its conclusion, I continue to believe that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) can best address the needs of developing countries by ensuring that nuclear commerce, rather than nonproliferation, is the group's primary focus. Developing countries need nuclear energy for the sake of their economic development; they need nuclear energy to help limit their emissions of greenhouse gases at a time when so many around the world are deeply concerned about climate change. Nonproliferation, of course, is an important issue that needs to be taken into account as nuclear commerce is conducted. And nonproliferation goals can be advanced by using nuclear trade as an incentive. But as soon as nonproliferation takes precedence over commerce itself, developing nations find themselves struggling to establish nuclear power sectors.

Over the years, the NSG's bureaucratic procedures have been blamed for delaying nuclear projects' schedules and increasing their costs, and this has led to demands that the group simplify its burdensome procedures. Fortunately, simplification would suit the purposes of both the developed and developing worlds (nuclear firms in wealthy countries have been in the forefront of demanding simplification from the NSG), assuming the NSG's ideals were not compromised in the process.

Unfortunately, however, multilateral export control regimes like the NSG have in recent years accumulated more and more rules, and this harms the efficacy of the regimes themselves. The NSG would do well to discard old rules that have become redundant or no longer serve their stated purposes, and to enforce only those restrictions whose nonproliferation benefits are tangible. For example, when it comes to transfers of enrichment technology, is it really necessary to insist so strongly that suppliers should seek to preclude the possibility of enrichment to greater than 20 percent uranium 235? True, uranium enriched to 20 percent technically qualifies as highly enriched uranium, but it is far from weapons grade. A rationalization of procedures would be an enormous help to the NSG's own members — for example, to the licensing and enforcement authorities in supplier nations.

Another important point is that NSG members should not, once they have reached agreements with customer nations, attempt to change supply conditions. Original agreements must be respected; any new conditions or modifications imposed by supplier nations should be treated as violations that entail penalties. In the past, after-the-fact restrictions such as those contained in the US Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 have been deeply resented in developed and developing countries alike.

I would like to close on the topic of expanded NSG membership, the same theme to which I largely devoted my first Roundtable essay. My colleague Raymund Jose G. Quilop has stated his view that a clear set of qualifications for NSG membership should be established, but that in any case the NSG should not expand in the near future. I share Quilop's apprehensions regarding the possibility that new members might take actions inconsistent with the group's values — indeed, that is why in my first essay I cast doubt on the wisdom of China's having been admitted to the NSG in 2004.

Still, we must remember that the NSG was established in large measure to bring a nation like France, which was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, into the export control regime. France, I would argue, has gone on to strengthen the regime. Today, new NSG members might make valuable contributions of their own, for instance by promoting nuclear energy in the developing world at a time when the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has posed grave challenges to the industry. If the developing world and the Nuclear Suppliers Group can engage with each other more fully, I believe that both sides will win.


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