Participating governments of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) convened an informal meeting Nov. 16 in Vienna to renew consideration of membership criteria for countries that have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an issue that has been discussed on and off since 2011.
The NSG exempted India in 2008 from its long-standing full-scope safeguards requirement for nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states on the basis of political commitments made by India, including a reiteration of its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium. In mid-2016, India filed a formal membership bid, with Pakistan submitting a separate membership request shortly thereafter. But the NSG, which operates by consensus, could not agree on a common set of criteria for membership by the two countries, which are not NPT signatories. Confidential discussions involving the 48 member-states did not produce a consensus. (See ACT, December 2016.)
The Nov. 16 meeting convened by the current NSG chair, Benno Laggner of Switzerland, was the first on the issue during the Trump administration. In response to Laggner’s request for input, U.S. representative Richard Stratford wrote Sept. 25 to say that the U.S. position is “that all relevant factors for consideration have been identified and that consensus on these factors is possible, if pursued.” Yet, diplomatic sources indicate that differences persist. China continues to insist that NPT membership must be one of the key criteria, while several other states insist that criteria should include, among other options, a binding commitment not to conduct nuclear test explosions, a declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency that identifies all current and future civilian nuclear facilities, and a commitment to support and strengthen the multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament regime by working toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.—DARYL G. KIMBALL