In a rapidly developing and energy-hungry nation such as India, the promise of nuclear power is still to be realized. The 19 nuclear power plants in operation generate a power output of less than 5,000MW which is grossly inadequate. India, however, has developed an ambitious plan to scale up its nuclear power generating capability to 63,000MW by 2032. Thanks to the Indo-US nuclear deal, this mega-plan is slowly taking shape. Two American firms, GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Toshiba, are set to build two new nuclear reactors in India. Since Japanese firms are involved, business is on hold unless and until the Japanese government too enters into a civilian nuclear deal with India. These conglomerates are thus eagerly waiting for the Japanese government to give the go-ahead.
During his visit to Japan in October, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed a strong desire to accelerate negotiations on a civilian nuclear agreement between the two countries, which would enable the transfer of Japanese nuclear technology and materials to India. Given the strong anti-nuclear sentiments among the Japanese people, Prime Minister Singh reiterated India’s commitment to a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and emphasized his country’s constructive role in nuclear non-proliferation. Yet, Japan’s fundamental stance – that it will nullify the agreement should India conduct another nuclear test – remains unchanged.
The fact that India is a nuclear-armed state has been a big obstacle for Japan in concluding negotiations. India is neither a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As Japan is the only nation in human history which has suffered from an atomic catastrophe, the Japanese media and public opinion remain hostile towards nuclear cooperation with non-NPT signatory states.
It is, however, worth looking into the US rationale for getting into a civil nuclear deal with India because this applies to Japan’s motive for starting the negotiations with India as well. First, the US took the realistic standpoint that India possessed nuclear weapons and will continue to do so. Second, the US admitted that India had all the capabilities to be a great power with a stable democratic setup. Third, with its economic decline, the US has been losing its bargaining power to China and therefore, began to view India as a potential counter-balance. More importantly, it was more of a practical decision for the Americans to engage India and seek cooperation to prevent the proliferation of nuclear technologies even without the NPT framework, than to wait until India someday abandoned nuclear weapons and joined the NPT.
Some criticize American favouritism with respect to India, stating that it jeopardized the NPT regime. It may have, but the NPT is, in the first place, an unequal treaty and the regime has always been full of flaws. China has in the past allegedly offered nuclear assistance to Pakistan and continues to do so even today. Iran too, is about to go nuclear. While the NPT remains an important tool for the prevention of nuclear proliferation, it is wrong to see the NPT as the only or an infallible means to stop nuclear proliferation. By bringing India back into the mainstream of international nuclear politics, it is possible to help strengthen the cause of the NPT regime which consists of many other legal and political instruments in addition to the NPT.
Non-proliferation efforts do not rely solely on the NPT framework, and Japan’s civil nuclear deal with India will not harm Japan’s non-proliferation efforts. However, the absolutist view of the NPT as the sole instrument of nuclear non-proliferation is still prevalent in Japan. Hence, the Naoto Kan administration needs to provide a cogent explanation to the populace of the need for the nuclear agreement with India.
What should Japan do in future negotiations with India? It should continue to press India to stay committed to its unilateral moratorium on nuclear explosive testing and encourage India to move forward on nuclear disarmament together with Pakistan. In addition, Japan can seek to work together with other nuclear supplier states to India, such as the US and France, to cease nuclear cooperation in the event that India carries out another nuclear test. Above all, Japan should stick to its original stance and include the condition in the agreement that it will nullify the agreement if India conducts another nuclear test.
It is undeniable however, that Japan is living with a contradiction when it advocates a nuclear-free world while simultaneously enjoying a security guarantee under the American nuclear umbrella in the region. This dual nature of Japan’s standing in international affairs appears to be hypocritical to other countries, particularly when Japan lacks a realistic standpoint in the ongoing efforts on nuclear non-proliferation. It is time for Japan to have an objective view on the international environment surrounding India’s nukes and respond flexibly to global political realities.
Miyuki Fujii, Former Associate Research Fellow, Japan Forum on International Relations, may be reached at [email protected]