Even though the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has exempted India from the constricting parameters of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), New Delhi can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Becoming one of only six countries allowed to participate in nuclear commerce and also keep an independent nuclear arsenal is a historic moment. But it will be a turning point only if India takes some domestic initiatives. Washington has given New Delhi the keys to the nuclear realm. However, being able to extract the most in terms of technology and energy from this opportunity is dependent on India’s own actions. In addition, New Delhi needs to do a lot more at home if it is to deserve the status of a de facto nuclear weapon State.
With the right to be a N-club member comes responsibilities. India needs to overhaul its domestic civilian nuclear programme. Even with imports of nuclear fuel, the Department of Atomic Energy’s ability to ramp up production is limited by the paucity of government funds. Which is why allowing the private sector into the business is of utmost importance. Without corporate India’s involvement, nuclear power generation cannot be scaled up to the level we need. India also needs to understand that a key reason why so many NSG members were sceptical is that its own internal non-proliferation structures remain rickety. Its export controls — the regulatory structure that ensures nuclear-sensitive material does not leave the country — remain primitive. India should review the possibility of joining technology control arrangements like the Wassenaar Convention or the NSG. One of India’s strongest arguments in Vienna was its non-proliferation record. As its nuclear infrastructure begins to grow, it needs to work to ensure this record remains impeccable.
In the next few months India will make up for lost time with nuclear agreements with France and Russia. If the US Congress allows it, a similar one will be finalised with the US as well. These are all very well, but they should not detract from the deeper reforms and policy shifts needed for India to take full advantage of the NSG waiver and finally set to rest doubts — self-doubts included — about its ability to be a responsible nuclear power.