India and Japan on Friday inked a civil nuclear cooperation agreement after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Shinzo Abe.
The deal would allow Japan to export nuclear technology to India, a country which has not signed the non-proliferation treaty – a first for Japan. The deal means Tokyo accepts the de facto status of India as a nuclear weapon power
Signing of the India-Japan nuclear agreement will pave way for the operationalisation of India’s agreement with Westinghouse, a US unit of Toshiba Corporation.
The nuclear deal has been straddling the fences for long, certainly, not for lack of political will but a variety of domestic factors at play, particularly in Japan.
In December 2015, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart announced an in-principle decision to cooperate on civil nuclear matters which would facilitate export of Japanese civil nuclear technology to India.
The joint statement had stated that the two Prime Ministers welcomed the agreement “for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and confirmed that this agreement will be signed after the technical details are finalised, including those related to the necessary internal procedures”.
Japan and India have been strengthening their partnership against the backdrop of the Asian geopolitical churning. China’s growing might and aggressive posturing are a problem not unique to India and Japan.
It is important to see what is driving Japan to consider nuclear commerce with India, a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Clearly, there are political and strategic imperatives that are helping Japan to push the envelope to engage in such ventures.
The rise of China and the unpredictability and strategic consequences of its power have rankled the Japanese leadership. The same sentiments are shared by India as well. It is this confluence of strategic interests that is at the core of the India-Japan strategic partnership today.
Driven by a realistic appraisal of the ensuing security scenario, Japan has come to near open acknowledgment of India as a nuclear power.
Japan’s general anti-nuclear sentiment will continue to be a stumbling block in realising the full potential of the relationship in this regard. The fact that the bilateral negotiations on nuclear cooperation have gone on for several years is indicative of how lukewarm Japanese sentiment is to this type of cooperation.
PM: The Agreement for Cooper'n in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy marks a historic step in our engagement to build a clean energy partner'p pic.twitter.com/tIl68vG2Uq— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) November 11, 2016
While the general anti-nuclear sentiment is one issue, there are specific issues that have added to the complexities of the negotiations.
For instance, Japan wanted to explicitly mention that it would terminate nuclear cooperation with India if New Delhi tested a nuclear weapon. While New Delhi understands that that might be the case, India is against noting it in the bilateral agreement.
Japan’s efforts to sell the deal to the public at large have also delayed the process. The Japanese government is trying hard to convince the public that they will ensure that the civil nuclear cooperation is for peaceful uses alone.
So, Japan wants to institute a verification mechanism to ensure that India does not divert any nuclear fuel to its weapons programme.
A second related concern Japan has is that the more fuel India gets for meeting its energy requirements, more is freed up for India’s nuclear weapons programme.
They fear that nuclear cooperation with India, even if meant for civil purposes, can lead to India’s nuclear arsenal expanding and thus potentially a nuclear arms race in South Asia is a problem.
Some in Japan had demanded additional steps regarding nuclear disarmament and testing, such as India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) before concluding this agreement. But India already has committed to a voluntary moratorium on nuclear tests but going further might be politically unviable.
A civil nuclear cooperation agreement requires legislative approval from the Diet, as part of its internal procedures.