The Indian position, so far, has been that the right to test or not is a sovereign decision. With Japan, it seems India has made an exception.
There’s no doubting it now. The bromance between prime ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan and Narendra Modi of India is more than just about a few selfies. Six years in the making, the India-Japan nuclear deal was signed during Modi’s visit to Japan from November 10 to 12. Toasted to with Abe’s sake and Modi’s orange juice, the deal ensures that India has a real shot at a clean energy future.
It was a huge leap of faith for Japan. This was the first time that it signed such a deal with a country that had not a signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The move will allow other countries to cooperate more easily with India as large components of nuclear reactors come from Japan. The dealmaking, however, was not all that smooth. There were a few tense moments in the run up to the final negotiations after as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar suggested at a book launch that India was not bound to the no-first-use policy of nuclear weapons. It was a major point of concern for Japan. In fact, the deal was not a given as late as last month. In an interaction with the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents in October, Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu was noncommittal. “We are in the process of detailed technical discussions. I can’t say it will be signed at the moment,’’ he said.
However, a flurry of behind-the-scene negotiations, diplomatic efforts and relentless efforts to assuage Japanese concerns ensured that Modi’s visit turned into more than just a photo-op. What swung the deal perhaps was a “note on views and understanding’’ that binds India to its September 2008 declaration made to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, in which it had committed to “voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing’’ and also reaffirmed the no-first-use policy. The note, therefore, gives Japan the right to terminate the deal if India conducted nuclear tests.
It seems the note was released by the Japanese side, hinting at, perhaps, the unwillingness of the Indian officials to be upfront about it. However, it also suggested a shift in the Indian stand on testing nuclear weapons. The Indian position, so far, has been that the right to test or not is a sovereign decision. With Japan, it seems India has made an exception.
The note, signed by India’s chief nuclear negotiator Amandeep Singh Gill and his Japanese counterpart, helped break the nuclear deadlock between the two countries. When presented before the Japanese parliament for ratification, the note is expected to clarify all doubts about the deal.
However, the question for India is slightly different. Has Modi done a Beckham? Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said the agreement was “broadly in line with the agreements that India had done with other countries.” Sources in the ministry of external affairs pointed out that Japan had “special sensitivities” as the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack.
“It is different,’’ said Rakesh Sood, who had served as India’s permanent representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament. While the nuclear deal with the United States did not specifically mention that it would be terminated in the eventuality of an Indian nuclear test, it is far more explicit in the Japanese agreement, said Sood. “The US does have the right to terminate the deal, but it is not attached to the Hyde Act,” he said. “In the Japanese deal, it implies automaticity.”
The nullification clause can be triggered by either party. Bharat Karnad, research professor at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, said the move was quite normal. He said Japan had not been granted any special favours. “The deal follows the same template, but compresses the developments, which have taken place since 2007,’’ said a source within the external affairs ministry. The other question is about the legality of the note as it is not formally a part of the agreement. Els Reynaers Kini, general secretary of the Nuclear Law Association of India and a lawyer, said the note was not an appendix to the agreement, but provided it a context and background.
The historic nature of the deal, however, is beyond dispute. “It is more of a strategic deal than a nuclear one. We tried hard to get Japan into our fold. It is a reliable partner and has advanced nuclear technology. These are the core issues,” said Rajiv Nayan of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.
The deal has opened up doors for other countries and has made them realise that India can be given an exemption. Even China welcomed the deal. “The Japan agreement means all others are on board,” said Karnad. “Japanese companies have important ownership stakes in GE, Westinghouse and Areva, the companies that are planning to set up reactors in India.”