Page 1 of 2 Nuclear hazard in Tokyo, Delhi embrace
By P K Sundaram
The emerging India-Japan relationship has been met with extreme reactions - from enthusiasm and protests in India and Japan, to concern in China. This new "strategic partnership", and particularly the nuclear cooperation under negotiation, does not portend well for Asia.
Strong ties between India and Japan can be seen as a pre-requisite for the emergence of Asia and could, in the context of a broader Asian regionalism, provide a way out of the morass created by a 20th century dominated by the West: militarism and wars, ecological crises and growth-obsessed economies.
However, the current architecture of the bilateral relationship is
centered on increased joint military initiatives and negotiations of civil nuclear cooperation and partnership for corporate-centric economic growth in India that is unleashing horror on its rural poor and ruining its fragile ecosystems.
In particular, absent a change in course, it will fuel an anachronistic drive for nuclear energy in India, which is being imposed by the government through brutal repression amid massive peaceful protests by its farmers, fishermen and citizens.
Contours of the partnership
The Indian PM's visit to Tokyo last in late May was part of a decade-long "strategic and global partnership" between India and Japan. Excepting 2012, the prime ministers of the two countries have met every year since 2006 and Japan is the only partner with whom India has a consistent 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defense secretaries.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe in May 2013
The US-India-Japan trilateral track-2 strategic dialogue shortly preceded the Indian premier's visit. The current framework of India-Japan relations has four major implications:
1. Regional balance and stability in Asia
The current phase of close India-Japan relations is animated by a shared strategic agenda of encircling and countering China. The recent visit became more significant following heightened tensions with China over the latter's alleged incursion in Ladakh.
Before the current border tensions, India and Japan had last year launched joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. Joint exercises between the coastguards of India and Japan were also held in Chennai in January 2012, and in Tokyo Bay in November 2012. Enhanced naval and maritime cooperation figures prominently in the joint statement issued last week.
The strategic partnership between India and Japan spans a wide range of issues - from war in Afghanistan to the extended Association of Southeast Asian Nations' security dialogues. While the two partners maintain that the maritime cooperation is for tackling piracy and ensuring safe commerce on the seas, China has considered it a threat to its interests in the Indian Ocean and part of the larger US strategy to encircle China.
International experts have warned against the perils of such efforts to contain China. Evan Resnick writes:
The continued conjunction of an increasingly powerful China with an ever more tightly-drawn US defense perimeter surrounding it poses a serious risk to peace and stability in East Asia. The Cold War case study imparts that the effective long-term containment of a rising adversary may paradoxically necessitate some accommodation of that state's most urgent security concerns.
This growing rivalry has also accelerated China's increased closeness with Pakistan, which includes providing more reactors and the construction of the China-Pakistan corridor through what India considers Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Pakistan immediately after India this month, and spoke of a new vigor in their bilateral relations. Pakistan felt humiliated by India being given selective entry into global nuclear commerce facilitated by the US in 2008, amounting to a legitimization of India's nuclear weapons. Pakistan continues to face an international embargo on nuclear commerce and its non-cooperation on several issues stems from this setback.
Finalizing a civil nuclear commerce agreement with Japan, together with the purchase of US-2 Japanese military aircraft, are among the key points in the negotiations. While in his last visit to Japan in 2010, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he "will not force" Japan to export nuclear technology to India, this time, prior to Singh's visit, the Shinzo Abe government announced that it is committed to a nuclear partnership with India.
The agreement has been in the pipeline for several years and has faced strong opposition from the pro-disarmament constituency in Japan, animated by post-war peace sentiments. However the India-Japan nuclear deal and the current framework for strategic ties between the two countries deserves a wider critique as it has very serious implications on multiple levels.
2. A final blow to a nuclear non-proliferation regime
One of the key components of the multi-layered bilateral dialogue is negotiating a civil nuclear agreement with India. Besides allowing access to Japanese technology for its civilian nuclear facilities, the nuclear agreement is also crucial for US and French nuclear corporations. Their projects, worth billions of dollars, are stuck because certain crucial components for those reactors have to be supplied by Japanese companies - which cannot happen without a bilateral nuclear agreement between India and Japan.
Such a bilateral agreement is important for the US since its major nuclear corporations, Westinghouse and General Electric (GE), are now owned by the Japanese companies Toshiba and Hitachi. Hence, both the US and France have been pushing Japan to enter into a nuclear agreement with India.
However, Japan's decision to reward a country that has conducted nuclear tests and is continuously advancing its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems would be a fatal blow to the non-proliferation regime and would further reduce prospects for global disarmament.
At a time when there are intense international pressures to prevent Iran from acquiring advanced civil nuclear capabilities as a serious threat to the proliferation regime, this would extend an India-US nuclear deal under which the US steered selective exemption for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) rules in 2008 (these prohibit the supply of nuclear technology to non-signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).
In fact, the NSG evolved out of the international response after India conducted its first nuclear tests in 1974 with the material and expertise it acquired from Canada, US, France and other countries under the rubric of the "peaceful" use of nuclear energy.
When US trade restrictions on India imposed in the aftermath of India's second nuclear test in 1998 started hurting the US more than India, the US gradually shifted course and began calling India a "responsible" nuclear power. The United States mainstreamed India's nuclear status under a deal between Prime Minister Singh and president George W Bush; India understood the US compulsion of keeping India aligned with the American global war of terror.
In practical terms, India outmaneuvered the decades-old international consensus on nuclear commerce by using the attraction of its emerging market and middle class consumer base, the importance of its strategic support to the West, and by offering lucrative reactor deals in return - 10,000 MW each to the US and French, openly doled out on the eve of the NSG negotiations.
The Japanese government at that time highlighted the irony of the India-US nuclear entente but finally gave in to US pressure and supported India's exemption in the NSG. Japanese civil society, particularly peace organizations and associations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims, expressed strong reservations. Hibakusha (surviving victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) groups condemned the Japanese government for buckling under pressure:
Despite the history of the atomic bombing, the government of Japan accepted the US-India Nuclear Agreement, which affords exceptional treatment for India, without even making an effort to minimize the blow to the NPT system. In doing so, it ignored statements issued by groups representing hibakusha living in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the Mayors of both these cities, by the Governors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Prefectures, by local councils and prefectural assemblies, as well as the united calls of hibakusha groups, nuclear disarmament groups and other peace groups throughout Japan which for years have been striving for nuclear disarmament. The government also ignored recent cross-party expressions of opposition by members of the Japanese Diet. As citizens of the country that was attacked by nuclear weapons, we are overwhelmed with shame that we have such a government.
However, the Japanese government has been maneuvering to finalize a nuclear agreement with India. Beside the pressures from the US and France mentioned above, the commercial interests of its own nuclear companies are another essential factor, particularly after their huge financial losses due to the Fukushima accident and the idling of most of Japan's reactors.
As in response to the Indo-US nuclear deal, Japanese hibakusha and peace groups have opposed a Japan-India nuclear agreement. The 2010 Nagasaki Peace Declaration noted that Japan-India nuclear deal will strengthen the race to militarization and heighten the risk of nuclear war in Asia: "A nation that has suffered atomic bombings itself is now severely weakening the NPT, which is beyond intolerable".
India, which cut a deal with the US and nuclear agreements from France, Russia and other countries without signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), is reluctant to do so with Japan. Reportedly, India even denied inclusion of a test ban clause in the bilateral nuclear agreement, which would fall short of an internationally binding CTBT. All that India is offering is a voluntary declaration of a moratorium on nuclear tests (and lucrative contracts to Japanese firms).
In the recent joint statement, while Shinzo Abe stressed the importance of CTBT, Singh reiterated his insistence on the voluntary moratorium. Mainstream Japanese newspapers have discussed the irony of Japan choosing between the progress of its economy and non-proliferation and held that both are equally important, however, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun has unequivocally supported the nuclear agreement and called it a "key to boosting bilateral ties".
Differing views on the CTBT have been pointed out in the media as the reason for the failure to conclude a nuclear agreement during Singh's visit. Despite the positive cacophony before the Japan trip, the complete absence of the word "nuclear" from the Indian PM's speech in Tokyo on May 27 signaled his realization of the difficulties faced by Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
However, there is widespread speculation that the Japanese government will abandon its insistence on honoring the CTBT and finalize the agreement with India once the Liberal Democratic Party returns to power with a stronger mandate after the upcoming July elections.
In this 15th year since India's 1998 nuclear tests, the legitimization of nuclear weapons by Japan would set a bad precedent for other countries and would boost the nuclear and conventional arms race in South Asia. Contrary to initial claims that nuclear weapons would bring strategic stability to South Asia, India's defense budget has gone up from 352 billion rupees (US$6.2 billion) in 1998 to a whopping 2.3 trillion rupees ($42.7 billion) in 2013, accelerating a regional arms race.
According to a SIPRI report published in March, India this year became the world's largest importer of arms. The modernization of nuclear arsenals and the diversification of delivery systems is also proceeding unabated in the region. A Japan-India nuclear deal will strengthen the race to militarization and heighten the risk of nuclear war in Asia.
3. Fueling India's nuclear energy expansion
The bargain legitimizing India's nuclear weapons in return for its purchase of reactors from the US, Russia, France and now Japan has translated into horror for the common people of India. While the India-US nuclear deal was touted as a convergence of the world's oldest and biggest democracies, the government of India is repressing large, grassroots anti-nuclear movements and ignoring the voices of village-level democratically elected bodies.
India has plans to build at least 20 more reactors in the next 20-30 years, and has announced ambitious plans to produce 25% of its total electricity by nuclear power - a 100-fold expansion compared to its present nuclear capacity. This expansion has threatened people with displacement and the loss of livelihood, radiation and threats to health and safety, and the forcible acquisition of agricultural land and irreversible damage to fragile ecosystems in several parts of the country.
Popular protests on the issue of nuclear power in India have stemmed from three concerns: livelihood issues for the Indian poor, the inherent dangers of nuclear reactors and fears of an accident after Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the complete lack of transparency, accountability and efficiency of the Indian nuclear establishment.