Japan from the inside out

Japan missing the bus on expanding ties with India

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 28, 2008

SOME SCOFFED at the time, but former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s plan to develop and strengthen ties between India and Japan was a capital idea on several levels. It wasn’t that the scoffers frowned on a closer relationship–they just didn’t care for the source of the proposal. Mr. Abe’s opponents would have hailed it as a major diplomatic initiative had someone from their side presented it instead.

But as a recent agreement between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Indian Space Research Organization to use satellites for disaster management shows, the two countries understand the logic and potential benefits of greater cooperation.

Unfortunately, some in Japan are showing a lack of foresight by throwing a wet blanket over an excellent opportunity not only to further expand the political relationship, but to expand the economic relationship as well.

As this Zeenews of India report explains, Japan is one of 45 member nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The NSG oversees the trade in dual-use nuclear fuel, materials, and technology to prevent their conversion from civilian nuclear energy programs to nuclear weapons systems.

It is NSG policy to sanction transactions only with countries that are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and that permit full inspections by the IAEA. That leaves out India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

The Indians became persona non grata among nuclear regulatory authorities because they diverted civilian nuclear assistance from Canada some years ago to develop their own atomic weapons. After Herculean efforts by the United States, however, the NSG agreed in September to grant a waiver to India exempting them from the rules and enabling other countries to provide assistance for nuclear power development. As one might imagine, the Chinese (also NSG members) fought to prevent the waiver, but they finally relented and abstained from a final vote after U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned Chinese President Hu Jintao for some one-on-one persuasion.

India’s nuclear power industry is underdeveloped compared to G-8 nations, so the waiver means those countries with superior technology and expertise in the field are making a beeline to New Delhi. Nuclear power companies in the U.S. already have visited India to present their proposals. The Russians plan to build four reactors there and want to build still more.

Japan is a world leader in the use of nuclear energy for power generation, so India is naturally interested in exploring the potential for greater cooperation with domestic companies too. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew to Tokyo in late October for discussions, but the Japanese government held back due to what was described as “strong lobbying by the (domestic) non-proliferation lobby”.

Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Toshiba sent representatives to Mumbai this week for talks with the Indian government and the state-owned Nuclear Power Corp. But the prospects for Japanese participation remain cloudy.

That’s because India also had another Japanese visitor this week: Hattori Takuya, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum. According to the group’s website:

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc. (JAIF) was incorporated as the comprehensive non-governmental organization on nuclear energy in Japan on March 1, 1956. JAIF is a non-profit organization incorporated under the auspices of the industry to promote peaceful utilization of nuclear energy for the benefit of Japanese nationals in consideration of the importance of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, radioisotopes and radiation in a wide variety of fields.

As unbelievable as it may seem, Mr. Hattori and his group are proving to be more recalcitrant than the Chinese, who saw this as a national security issue. Despite the NSG waiver, JAIF wants India to sign the test ban treaty anyway and commit to nuclear disarmament before they’ll consider cooperation. Here’s Mr. Hattori talking to the Indian press:

“Japan is the only country which suffered due to two atom bombs in the history of mankind and Japanese people are very sensitive.”

It’s about time to bury this line in a vault in the back of a museum warehouse. Victimization is a craven excuse on which to base policy in any context, and it’s outmoded in this one. Fifty years ago, everyone fully understood Japanese sensitivities, and the stance also served the national interest because it helped convince the rest of the convincible world that the old Japan was dead and buried.

But when more than a few politicians in Japan talk sotto voce about the country acquiring a nuclear deterrent of its own, it is both obsolete and in bad faith. During his term as Chief Cabinet Secretary, even former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, whom some overseas observers considered “dovish”, said that Japan should consider going nuclear in a private conversation with some members of the media. He backed down when asked about it in a public press conference the next day.

Continued Mr. Hattori:

“If Japan goes for civil nuclear cooperation with India, it amounts to following (a) double standard. We cannot then talk about North Korea and Iran at the international platform if we have civil nuclear cooperation with India now when your country has nuclear bombs.”

Those who cannot or will not differentiate between India’s program and those of Iran and North Korea lack the qualifications either to speak on or set policy for nuclear issues.

It is true that India has not signed the treaty. The Indian government says it has voluntarily suspended nuclear testing and adopted a no-first strike policy. In contrast, Iran has signed the treaty, for what that’s worth. Yet the latter country is governed by religious fanatics who speak openly of destroying Israel. They also clearly state it wouldn’t bother them very much if they were to be destroyed in the process—killing the infidel Jews punches their ticket to paradise and an eternity with all those virgins.

North Korea, which signed the treaty, violated it, withdrew, and likely still violates it, doesn’t even belong in this conversation. They are governed by a Stalinist family regime for whom nuclear weapons technology is a shield against German-style reunification and a hard currency earner when exported to rogue states or malevolent non-state actors.

Mentioning either of those countries in the same breath with India is fatuous. Indeed, who could blame the Indians if they were to find it insulting?

There’s more:

“We strongly ask India to keep up (the) commitment with Nuclear Suppliers Group to pursue nuclear disarmament and also follow other international treaties like CTBT in order to continue the peaceful uses of (the) atom in the form of nuclear energy.”

Preventing nuclear power cooperation with India by tying it to nuclear disarmament is arrant nonsense. By that logic, Nation A should reject a civil aviation pact with any other nation that has an air force in its military.

Not that the issue of nuclear disarmament isn’t absurd to begin with. It is no joke to say that if nuclear weapons are outlawed, then only outlaws will have nuclear weapons—and that would make the world an unacceptably dangerous place. Those who would claim that nuclear disarmament is an achievable goal should begin any justification of their position by explaining the failure of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Mr. Hattori also said:

“We have little information about India’s nuclear program…”

But added:

“India has a need for tremendous manpower resources well-trained to keep up high standards of non-proliferation safeguards, safety and security. India has to expand its training program to increase its huge manpower needs urgently.”

If the JAIF has little information about India’s program, why is it qualified to speak about its manpower resources and training program?


“There is a win-win situation and it is meant for a long-term relationship.”

The win-win situation for the long-term relationship is to begin cooperation for nuclear power generation immediately.

Where to point the finger?

At this point, one has to wonder who in Japan apart from JAIF is trying to stymie the cooperation. Japan’s nuclear power industry is in India and ready to talk turkey. As noted above, some politicians of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are interested in a nuclear deterrent of their own, and even those who wouldn’t be willing to go that far are nothing if not pragmatic when it comes to business. So who could have enough sway in the current government to prevent Japan and India from coming to terms?

Here’s one possibility:

Abolish nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction as part of our longstanding commitment to diplomatic initiatives to advance peace. Introduce proposals facilitating the earliest possible ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, including implementing the treaty on a provisional basis should a minimum necessary number of signatories be secured.

That’s from the party platform of New Komeito, the lesser partner in Japan’s governing coalition. It sometimes is difficult to see how the party, widely seen as the political arm of the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, benefits from their participation in that coalition. The LDP gets to stay in the driver’s seat in Nagata-cho through New Komeito’s considerable get-out-the-vote efforts and their representation in the Diet. And that means they have to hold up their end of the quid pro quo.

Therefore, it’s not out of the question that the obstacle to greater cooperation with India for the peaceful use of nuclear power is New Komeito.

If the party is indeed holding up an agreement in this instance, it’s yet another reason why Japan desperately needs a major political realignment. Those who insist on incorporating into national policy an ideal that would be counterproductive if it weren’t impossible to achieve are doing the country a disservice.

Afterwords: In addition to reconsidering their hesitancy to assist India with civilian nuclear power development, Japan should also consider backing U.S. Senator John McCain’s suggestion to drop Russia from the G-8 and replace it with India. Unfortunately, that will never happen as long as Russia holds the four islands to the north of Hokkaido it seized just after Japan’s surrender in World War II.

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