In 2007, when the then prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, launched his Indian visit, there was quiet, understated, optimism. The Indo-US nuclear deal had just been signed, the so-called “India Story” was a favourite, if somewhat misplaced euphemism about this country’s future potential. Relations between the two countries were already being described as “strategic”. Now, after four years, as another Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, comes to New Delhi, expectations—and emotions for certain—are much more restrained.
One obvious stumbling block, as a story in Mint today explains, is the lack of forward movement in concluding a nuclear deal between the two countries. Unless Japan agrees, the Indo-US and Indo-French nuclear deals may seem much less attractive. The reason: The Japanese have a near monopoly on crucial parts used in nuclear power plants. Many US and French companies use these parts based on licences granted to them by Japanese companies. After three rounds of negotiations, it is still not clear if the deal will be signed. That continues to be a sticking point.
Part of the problem is the Japanese sensitivity to handing nuclear technology to any country that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Partly the blame lies with India’s political leadership that has watched countries (including Russia) tighten nuclear screws on India. We continue to harp about the “clear waiver” at the Nuclear Suppliers Group while the world has moved on. It is reminiscent of the moralistic posture devoid of appreciation of realities that hurt our ambitions for so long. A better option would have been to go in for sustained massaging of Japanese opinion to secure the desired results. That was never done.
Another aspect of the problem is the Japanese lack of appreciation of strategic realities. The cost-free security umbrella that it enjoyed from the end of World War II— mostly due to American munificence—may not be available for all times. In an era of relative American decline, other options have to be explored. Japan’s neighbourhood displays features that are not very dissimilar from what India faces: a rising China and the presence of other hostile (or sullen) countries.
Clearly, the ingredients for a closer strategic understanding exist. Japan has to understand that India cannot sign the NPT or give up its rights to develop nuclear weapons. It does not enjoy security guarantees from any country as Japan has for long. At the same time, India is a pacifist nation. The presence of nuclear weapons and protestations of peace are lost on many Japanese. The challenge before Indian diplomacy is to convey the sincerity of this combination.
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