The Japanese government has decided to restart talks with India to reach a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement. The move is aimed at paving the way for exports of Japanese nuclear power technology to India.
India has developed nuclear weapons without becoming a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a key international pact to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
Japan, on the other hand, is a country which once suffered the ravages of nuclear attacks and has avowed to pursue the cause of the elimination of nuclear weapons under the NPT.
A nuclear cooperation agreement between Japan and India would further undermine the effectiveness and relevance of the NPT system.
Before negotiating such a deal, Tokyo should ask New Delhi to become a party to the NPT and sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Starting in June 2010, Japan and India held three rounds of negotiations over an agreement on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation. But the talks have been suspended since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake triggered disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is slated to visit Japan in the coming week and hold talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders are expected to announce a restart of the nuclear talks in a joint statement they will release.
A total of 20 nuclear reactors are in operation in India, including some for military use. But most of them are small reactors made in India with domestic technology. The country is keen to import foreign technology to build large-scale nuclear power plants.
Since Japanese nuclear technology is used in large nuclear reactors made in the United States and France, it is difficult for India to import nuclear reactors from these countries unless it strikes a nuclear deal with Japan. To remove the obstacle to their exports of nuclear technology to India, Washington and Paris have been unofficially urging Tokyo to conclude a nuclear deal with New Delhi.
But this move raises serious concerns from the viewpoint of the NPT.
The NPT system is designed to limit the membership of the Nuclear Club to the five original nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China while requiring them to make serious efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Other countries are allowed to receive foreign nuclear technology for peaceful use in return for refraining from possessing nuclear arms.
Supplying nuclear technology to India, which has run roughshod on the spirit of the NPT, would send out the message that countries can obtain nuclear technology even if they don’t comply with the NPT.
Countries that are not parties to the NPT or have withdrawn from the treaty, such as India, Pakistan and North Korea, have carried out nuclear arms tests. Iran, an NPT signatory country, continued developing nuclear arms technology in the face of protests from the international community.
All these developments have worked to weaken the NPT system to an alarming extent.
Even so, Japan should not take any action that would push the NPT further down the road to ruin.
In 2008, in response to prodding by the United States, which wanted to export nuclear power technology to India, the so-called Nuclear Suppliers Group, which was then composed of 45 countries including Japan, approved an exception to the nonproliferation principles to allow India to receive nuclear power technology from other nations.
At that time, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the Japanese government maintained its official position that India should join the NPT at an early date as a non-nuclear power, and sign and ratify the CTBT quickly.
In protest against the start of negotiations between Japan and India for a nuclear deal, the 2010 Nagasaki Peace Declaration said, “a nation that has suffered atomic bombings itself is now severely weakening the NPT, which is beyond intolerable.”
Japan, as the only country that has ever been struck by nuclear weapons, should remain unwaveringly committed to the principle of nuclear nonproliferation.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 25
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