The Seoul plenary of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ended on June 24 without a “conclusive” decision on India’s membership bid. This has sparked partisan sniping in India, where the Congress party has accused the Modi government of showing “desperation” in its diplomacy. It has also spurred a flurry of commentary about the “failure” of India’s bid. Both statements are untrue, and miss the larger picture: India has made significant progress toward its quest for NSG membership, a long and complicated multilateral pursuit. This effort did not begin in June 2016, but has been underway for several years. India should keep pressing for a decision.
For those who woke up to India’s interest in NSG membership only over the past month, it likely appears that the run-up to the June plenary — with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to Switzerland, the US, and Mexico — was a fast-and-furious diplomatic press with a disappointing outcome. A positive decision certainly would have been a welcome result, for New Delhi and for its supporters in Washington and in many other capitals around the world. But imagine the counterfactual: Had India sat back quietly, mentioning its NSG bid only in passing, the participating governments in the NSG would have concluded that New Delhi placed little priority on membership. I doubt that would have positioned India’s candidacy more favourably.
This leads to lesson number one. The 48 members of the NSG are seeing India’s clear interest in making the rules that organise the world, in consonance with its larger position in the global economy and rising global power. The fact that the prime minister made clear his search for support at the highest levels around the world shows leadership, not “desperation.”