Japan signed a nuclear energy agreement with India on Nov. 11, on the occasion of a visit to Japan by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opening the way for Japan to sell civil nuclear power equipment and technology to India.
India, which possesses nuclear weapons, has not joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), an international framework that regulates the use of nuclear energy. The latest deal allows Japan to cooperate with the nuclear state, which is not recognized as such under international law, in the field of atomic energy. Doesn’t this signal that Japan is confirming the unraveling of the NPT framework?
Moreover, a promise — which Tokyo had strongly demanded — that cooperation would be suspended if India were to conduct a nuclear test was not written into the agreement. India refused to incorporate such a pledge into the bilateral agreement on the grounds that similar agreements it has with eight other countries, including the United States and France, do not have such a clause.
Instead, Japan and India signed a separate document instead, but it, too, does not mention nuclear testing. Japan is taking the position that the promise it sought has been made, since the document mentions a 2008 international agreement in which India pledged to continue its moratorium on nuclear tests and keep its civilian and military uses of atomic energy separate. Tokyo explains that the document is legally binding and effectively obligates India to participate in the international nuclear non-proliferation framework.
However, Tokyo should have persuaded New Delhi to incorporate the suspension of nuclear tests into the agreement. It is regrettable that Japan failed to stand firm in its demand as the only atomic-bombed country in the world. India apparently does not want to give up its right to conduct nuclear tests, as its neighbor Pakistan possesses nuclear arms and is not a member of the NPT.
The agreement also states that spent nuclear fuel in India can be reprocessed only for peaceful use. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency is authorized to inspect only civilian facilities in India to verify if India is indeed limiting its use of reprocessed nuclear fuel to peaceful purposes. Under such circumstances, it is impossible to completely prevent India from converting spent nuclear fuel to military use.
The NPT began to lose its substance when 45 countries belonging to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decided to permit the supply of nuclear reactor equipment to India, which is not party to the NPT, as an exception. Japan was one of those countries. The signing of the latest Japan-India atomic energy agreement could be seen as a consequence of the NSG decision made eight years ago.
Japan’s business community will likely welcome the fact that they can export nuclear plant equipment to India where the demand for such power stations is high. As a result of Japanese nuclear energy companies strengthening partnerships with their counterparts in the United States and France, these countries, which would have been adversely affected if Japan had failed to reach an atomic energy agreement with India, strongly pressured Japan to sign the pact. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be enthusiastic about stepping up cooperation with India to counter the rise of China.
India is an important partner for Japan in terms of both the economy and security. Strengthened relations between Tokyo and New Delhi should be welcomed. However, the latest agreement has tarnished the moral principles that Japan has maintained as the world’s only atomic-bombed country.