Japan and India continue talks about nuclear cooperation deal

Aug 24, 2010


By Anna Newby

On Saturday, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with his Indian counterpart S. M. Krishna to continue talks – which began in June – about a nuclear cooperation deal between the two countries. Okada did not specify a timeframe for concluding the deal. He has insisted that, as a condition of the agreement, India must not test any nuclear devices, telling reporters that if India conducted another test, “Japan will have no option but to state that we shall suspend all cooperation.” Okada explained that Tokyo’s insistence on New Delhi’s continuation of its testing moratorium is rooted in domestic criticism:
“Considering the domestic criticism in Japan, I asked for consideration on the part of India so that this philosophy of nuclear disarmament and non proliferation would be contained in the nuclear cooperation agreement.”
Krishna has responded that India was not required to make such a promise under other civilian nuclear deals, causing some observers to doubt that New Delhi will readily agree to the provision. As Liviu Horovitz and Robert Golan-Vilella write, however, some statements by Indian leaders in 2005 did provide Washington with a political commitment to not conduct further nuclear tests. The joint statement between President Bush and Prime Minister Singh in July 2005, for example, notes that India “would be ready to…continue [the] unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing.” Several NSG member states, similarly, made their approval of India’s 2008 waiver contingent on an understanding that India would not test.
Until 2008, when India finalized its civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, New Delhi had been barred from nuclear trade for three decades. In recent weeks, the Indian parliament has worked to pass a nuclear liability bill, an important step for bringing in foreign providers of nuclear technology to the Indian energy marketplace.
In June, Japan faced pressure from France and the U.S. to arrive at a nuclear cooperation deal with India, since American companies like General Electric and Westinghouse have partnerships with Japanese firms. France also pushed for the agreement, which would allow Areva to use Japanese suppliers for projects in India. Nobumasa Akiyama, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Law at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, said:
"Without Japanese involvement, American and French nuclear businesses could be denied opportunities in the Indian nuclear market. Also, India could face a delay in its nuclear energy program. In this respect, India may push this agenda in its relationship/partnership with Japan."
Commercially, the deal is significant for India – however, as Sourabh Gupta from Samuels International Associates notes, “India could still access Russian and South Korean technologies, though the range of options and quality of such technologies might retard India's own progress in developing industry technology.”
Japan has been a longtime critic of India’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and a nuclear cooperation deal with New Delhi would be Tokyo’s first with a non-NPT state. Moreover, Shunsuke Kondo, chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), has consistently called for openness and transparency in nuclear development, a stance that “may not work to the advantage of proponents of a nuclear agreement with India,” according to the Asia Times. India’s rapidly-growing demand for energy, however, means that a nuclear cooperation deal could be lucrative for Japanese companies. Moreover, Japan may want to compete with China, which is pursuing a deal to provide nuclear plants to Pakistan.
Harsh Pant of Kings College in London writes:
Though Indian-Japanese ties have blossomed in recent years on a range of issues, the nuclear issue has been a major irritant in the relationship. The new understanding between the two nations underscores Tokyo’s attempts to come to terms with India’s new nuclear status. Japanese nuclear companies are eager for a share of the Indian market.
Some critics argue that the deal – like other civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with India – will damage the global nonproliferation regime. Japan, therefore (which has adamantly opposed nuclear proliferation for decades) may be seen to be relinquishing its moral high ground by going forward with the deal. Jeffrey Lewis argues that the no-testing pledge might redeem the agreement somewhat, however, and “might modestly reduce the harm from the NSG exemption.”
For Japan, India’s (re)commitment to non-proliferation principles is critical. Some have suggested that Canada’s completion of a nuclear cooperation deal with India in June opened the door for Japan to follow suit with relatively little criticism. Like Japan, Canada has been a longstanding advocate for disarmament and nonproliferation.
Although Indian leaders might push back a bit on the testing condition, it seems highly unlikely that India would reject the agreement with Japan on those grounds. In the past, Horovitz and Golan-Vilella write, some Indian leaders “engaged in ‘political demonization’ of the CTBT for domestic consumption,” and used the testing issue to “push for a time-bound framework for further disarmament measures.”  But in reality, they argue, India has a long legacy of opposing nuclear testing:
“India’s diplomats have often been proud to point out that Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was the first to articulate the concept of a test ban, in 1954.”
Moreover, despite a brief spat last year between a group scientists that called for resumption of testing (claiming that India’s 1998 test had been a failure) and national security officials who insisted that the tests were successful and that the moratorium would continue, there is not overwhelming pressure in the domestic Indian political arena to conduct nuclear tests. Scientists have “established that India has a proven capability for a weaponised nuclear program,” which draws on “a valuable database which is useful in the design of nuclear weapons of different yields for different applications and for different delivery systems, [and could enable scientists to conduct] sound computer simulations” in lieu of testing.
Strategically, as Gupta acknowledges, the deal is very important because Japan’s willingness to be flexible on such a sensitive issue demonstrates that India is considered a close ally. Interestingly, Japan’s conditions for a nuclear cooperation agreement with India differ somewhat from those the U.S. made in 2005. While the U.S.-India deal is predicated on the sense that India has demonstrated “good behavior” in terms of nonproliferation, Japanese leaders have focused specifically on the testing issue. In moving forward with the deal, Japanese leaders have to be confident that cooperating on civilian nuclear technology with India will enhance Tokyo’s international standing, not weaken it. This hinges on weighing the relative importance of Japan’s non-nuclear identity and its role in global nonproliferation efforts with its economic interests and relations with the West.