Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Negotiating an Indo-Japan Nuclear deal



Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ongoing visit to Japan is his first bilateral foreign trip outside the region which, in a sense, demonstrates the importance New Delhi attaches to the bilateral partnership with Japan. Though a number of issues, ranging from “bullet train” to defence deals, are likely to figure in the bilateral consultations during Modi’s visit to Tokyo, the likelihood of a possible nuclear deal between the two sides has attracted the most attention. New Delhi and Tokyo have been in consultations for a number of years to finalise a nuclear agreement which will enable the former to buy nuclear technology from Japanese companies. Even though these negotiations have not been as strenuous as the Indo-US negotiations were, India’s status as a nuclear outlier state has been a major stumbling block in inking the deal. Japanese reservations about the deal come from its tragic history with nuclear weapons, whereas New Delhi’s urgency in signing a deal comes from its urgent need for nuclear energy. 

Why is it important for India?
India’s desire for a civilian nuclear deal with Japan comes from material and symbolic considerations. From a material point of view, New Delhi needs Japanese nuclear technology in order to advance its massive nuclear energy expansion plans, something that the Modi government has been very keen on. More importantly, India’s nuclear deals with US and France would also be inadequate without a nuclear agreement with Japan since Japanese firms such as Toshiba Corporation and Hitachi Ltd have major stakes in US and French firms such as Westinghouse Electric Co. and Areva. New Delhi’s plans to buy nuclear reactors from these firms can actualise only after a nuclear deal is signed with Japan. 
An Indo-Japan nuclear agreement is also useful to New Delhi for a variety of symbolic reasons. First of all, we need to understand that this is the first time that Japan has engaged in a sustained dialogue with a non-NPT country to conclude a civilian nuclear agreement, even though Japan has been highly critical of India’s nuclear weapon programme. Thus nudging Tokyo to go past this psychological barrier is itself a great victory for New Delhi. Secondly. Japan is a major pillar of the contemporary global nuclear order and has been very active in demanding a nuclear weapon free world. Japan is some sort of a normative gatekeeper of such an order. Therefore, being able to sign a nuclear deal with it will not only enhance India’s standing in the nuclear order but is also likely to smoothen its attempts at further integration with the global order. Besides Japan, the other deal that is in the pipeline is the one with Australia, which is likely to be concluded in the first week of September when the Australian Prime Minister would come to New Delhi. If New Delhi is indeed able to finalise these two deals, it will clearly improve its legitimacy and standing in the global nuclear order. 

Why the deal is important for japanThe nuclear deal is also very important for the Japanese government.  First of all, there are high stakes involved in it from a commercial point of view given the fact that billions of dollars are riding on potential nuclear trade with India. The Japanese firms are looking to get a major share of that money especially at a time when nuclear energy has suffered a major setback in Japan thanks to the Fukushima incident.  Secondly, Japan is also conscious of the importance of strengthening its ties with India so as to checkmate the Chinese aggression in the region. While the Modi government is most likely to reach out to the Chinese leadership, the reality is that there is no love lost between China and India. In the Japanese understanding, then, “enemy’s enemy is a friend”! 

Then there are alliance considerations. Tokyo has also been encouraged by Washington to enter into the deal with New Delhi since many American firms, controlled in turn by the Japanese majors, would not be in a position to sell reactors to India without the nod from the Japanese government. 

What are the stumbling blocks?
And yet there are a number of issues that can create major hurdles in concluding an agreement. The anti-nuclear lobby in Japan is critical of a nuclear deal with India. But more importantly, given India’s status as a country that has not signed either the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT), the Japanese government is faced with a moral dilemma when it comes to signing a nuclear deal with New Delhi given its activism against nuclear weapons. The other issue is the Japanese concern about future nuclear tests by India. It has been insisting that the Indian government should provide a guarantee that it would not conduct any more nuclear tests in future thereby closing the possibility that India might conduct a thermonuclear test to strengthen its nuclear deterrence with China.  Moreover, Japan is also keen on including in the agreement certain clauses that will enable it to conduct inspections to ensure that the material supplied by it is not used for weapon purposes by India. 

Likely Indian responses 
On the eve of his departure for Japan, Prime Minister Modi held a meeting with Japanese journalists in which he tried to alleviate some of these fears. On the question of whether or not India will test again, he said, “We are committed to maintaining a unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing”. However, it is very unlikely that he would be willing to give any documentary undertaking in this regard. India is also unlikely to agree to sign the NPT or the CTBT. However, post-1998, New Delhi has not ruled out the possibility of adopting a more positive approach to CTBT should the American and Chinese governments sign and ratify the treaty. On the question of potential diversion of nuclear material, Modi government is unlikely to concede to any more than what it has agreed to in the agreement that it has signed with the IAEA. 

That said, Modi has far more legroom to finalise a nuclear agreement with Japan unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh whose government went through a number of existential crises when negotiating the nuclear deal with the Americans.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, August 31, 2014. URL: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2014/Aug/31/negotiating-an-indo-japan-nuclear-deal-15.asp) 

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