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In Hiroshima's 70th Year, Will the India-Japan Nuclear Deal Bury Global Non-Proliferation?

Will 2015 be remembered in history as a year when the human race decided to abandon the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Kumar Sundaram

Will 2015 be remembered in history as a year when the human race decided to abandon the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? If the first part of this year saw the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ending in a failure, the closing of 2015 might witness a final and de facto expansion of the nuclear weapons club. Not surprisingly, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have spoken out strongly against the proposed agreement which the Japanese PM might sign during his visit to India this weekend. In an extraordinary move, the two mayors - Kazumi Matsui and Tomihisa Taue – held a press conference issuing a joint statement and urged PM Shinzo Abe to abandon the nuclear supply agreement with India.

Strong criticism of the nuclear deal to India also found a place in the annual Peace Declarations of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities in recent years.

Of course, fierce opposition to the nuclear agreement has also come from citizen groups opposed to nuclear power. Not only in India and Japan, but also international anti-nuclear groups have opposed the agreement as it unleashes a destructive and dangerous nuclear expansion in India and provides a new lease on life to the moribund global nuclear industry which is facing its terminal crisis after Fukushima.

But why does this agreement concern the victims of nuclear bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki so much?

Global Non-Proliferation at a Crossroads

Nonproliferation has been a legitimate concern since the advent of the nuclear age. While peace movements across the world have always demanded an elimination of nuclear arms, stopping the spread of atomic weapons has also been an important goal. This is evident from the fact that the NPT is the most universal treaty ever put into force. Despite coming into existence in 1968 amid the tumultuous polarisation of the cold war, the Treaty enjoyed support not only from the two blocks but also a large number of countries beyond them. The political and technical difficulties of reversing nuclear weaponisation and the unacceptable risks of accidental and unauthorised use leading to potential spiralling have motivated this widely held taboo.

In return for the universal respect for non-proliferation objective, the original 5 Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) committed themselves to negotiate nuclear disarmament “in good faith” under Article 6 of the NPT. This has been a major sticking point in the international negotiations and the P-5 have never seriously pursued disarmament negotiations. It has been a challenge for the Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) and the international civil society to hold the P-5 accountable to their NPT obligations.

Another inherent contradiction of the NPT has been its promotion of nuclear technology for 'peaceful uses' which is regarded as an “inalienable right” of its member states under Article IV of the Treaty. This contradiction has grown bigger with time and today even the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) admits that more than 20 countries have the wherewithal to build nuclear weapons and are essentially a political decision away from doing so.

In such situations, tightening the global non-proliferation regime and expediting abolition of nuclear weapons is an urgent priority.

This would require sincere efforts on two fronts – the NWS have to pursue disarmament urgently and the NNWS have to realise that besides pursuit of disarmament by the NWS, a progressive revision of the original NPT bargain is also essential. For the world to really be free of nuclear weapons, the 'inalienable right' to pursue 'peaceful' nuclear technology must also be rethought. An unconventional solution like replacing the nuclear energy bargain with renewable energy or other such deliverables should also be considered, given the fact that nuclear energy must anyways be discouraged in the post-Fukushima world.

However, the situation is only met with extreme posturing from both sides. While the NWS have refused to negotiate disarmament on the one hand while keeping a profitable civil energy market open, the NNWS have also not shown openness to revisit the grand bargain of the NPT and surrender the sovereign right to pursue 'peaceful' nuclear power in exchange for concrete nuclear disarmament negotiations. In fact, some countries have only exploited the loophole and have acquired advanced civilian nuclear technology which they consider a sufficient deterrent in itself.

The US and its allies, in pursuit of a world order that suits them, have then pushed the world from non-proliferation to counter-proliferation over the last decade. This means that they have accepted the contradictions inherent in the NPT but have opted for a quick-fix – do not discuss nuclear disarmament, keep the nuclear energy market unhindered, and just police the world to regulate who can possess nuclear weapons and who cannot. Despite all its limitations and contradictions and limitations, at least the NPT doesn't make any such distinctions. For the NPT, at least in principle, all nuclear weapons are evil and thus both NNWS and NWS must shun them. But the US has led the world to a 'good nukes, bad nukes' era where India's actual nuclear weapons are good and Iran's potential nuclear weapons are a strict no. Expansion of civil nuclear technology by Iran is something to be met with sanctions while export of nuclear technology to India despite it being outside the NPT and having conducted nuclear tests is a common good. The legitimacy of a nation’s nuclear capabilities has been effectively linked to its diplomatic intimacy with the United States.

This shift from non-proliferation to counter-proliferation pushes the disarmament goals further away. It's  actually a desperate strategy by the NWS to retain nuclear weapons and limit their spread despite widening contradictions of the regime and increasing the span of the dangerous nuclear age, when humanity is living each passing day on borrowed time.

Legitimisation of India's nuclear weapons thus fits into America's own scheme of counter-proliferation. That is why the US eventually embraced India after its 1998 nuclear tests, albeit with some initial lip-service condemning India's tests. 

India and the NPT

India, while its leaders never get tired of evoking Buddha and Gandhi in the international forums, never signed the NPT and adopted a maximalist posture. It insisted that non-proliferation is hollow without a universal, comprehensive and time-bound nuclear disarmament. As a rhetorical approach, this position sounds logical and obviously convincing. Of course, only a total elimination of nuclear arms can render these weapons illegitimate and hence unattractive for newer nations. But predicating non-proliferation on global disarmament is mere fallacy in the real world. Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons has to go hand-in-hand with the goal of reduction and eventual abolition of nuclear arsenals of the countries that have them.

Not surprisingly, India didn't find many takers for its absolutist stance and even most countries politically opposed to the hegemony of nuclear weapons states saw a point in signing on to the treaty. Not only the NPT treaty, but the global non-proliferation regime also consists of the regional Nuclear Weapons Free Zones (NWFZ) which 115 countries of the the world have signed voluntarily to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. India remains one of the only 3 holdouts of the NPT – India, Pakistan and Israel. And these 3 countries are certainly not the most consistent champions of nuclear disarmament. In hindsight, if not by design, India used the maximalist posture to remain out of non-proliferation, retain the nuclear test option open and eventually, this self-proclaimed most consistent votary of global nuclear disarmament conducted nuclear tests. Pakistan, of course, had an excuse for hiding behind India following suit. Israel possesses atomic weapons and has maintained a deliberate and strategic silence about them. To a great extent, the US support for Israel which summarily refused to participate in the negotiations for the Middle East WMD Free Zone as per the mandate of the 2010's NPT Review Conference, led to the failure of the NPT RevCon this year.

India never agreed to an NWFZ in South Asia despite repeated offers from Pakistan. It never signed the CTBT adopting a similar maximalist posture, disregarding the fact that nuclear tests have lead to irreversible damage to environment and communities and banning them is an important precursor to global disarmament.

What could be worse than India staying out of the NPT system? The fact that it conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and within a decade became a de facto member of the nuclear weapons club. India did so with generous help from the US which has its own reasons to embrace India as discussed above. But India also had its own paybacks for the West–-its geo-political significance, the massive and attractive nuclear, military and consumer market that it gradually opened and putting its weight behind the West in the intensifying divide bordering on Islamophobia.

The 2005 Indo-US Deal

While the 1974 tests by India invited international sanctions and a stringent embargo on nuclear commerce, the 1998 tests in the changed political context ironically accrued it an international legitimacy and brought an end to the international isolation that it had faced for 35 years since its first nuclear test. The US initiated a sustained dialogue with India and eventually entered into a grand nuclear deal which President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed in 2005.

It was an extraordinary deal as the US showered all the benefits of the NPT regime without India signing the treaty. The US manoevered changes in the IAEA system and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to provide an exemption for India, as their standard rules disallowed nuclear commerce with any country that is not a signatory to the NPT. This deal faced huge opposition from the disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control community worldwide. When the NSG met to discuss an exemption for India in 2008, Hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki wrote a strong letter to the NSG urging it to respect the NPT. They highlighted that it should actually have been an occasion to address NPT's loopholes and pursue global nuclear disarmament. They also scathingly criticised the Japanese government for not rising to the occasion, saying, "despite our requests, the Japanese government's stance has remained vague throughout." Not only the Hibakusha and the disarmament community, but also countries like Austria, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Ireland, New Zealand and Sweden stood in opposition within the NSG.

In return for this exceptional exemption, India offered large nuclear purchases from the major NSG countries – France, Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan, and Australia, without doing any cost-benefit analysis or even feasibility and environmental studies in India. The massive nuclear expansion underway in India based on these imports is a another horrible story where the most vulnerable sections of Indian society, and the country's fragile ecology, are paying the price for its elite's nuclear weapons dreams. This bargain of 2008 has actually deprived India of the sovereignty which a number of countries have used to make independent energy choices after Fukushima, shunning nuclear and opting for a renewable and sustainable energy paradigm.

The India-Japan Nuclear Agreement

Despite buckling to the US pressure at the NSG level, Japan has remained reluctant about signing the bilateral agreement with India. Respecting the NPT and promoting nuclear disarmament at global level has been a central tenet of Japan's post-war diplomacy and its national self-image. Selling nuclear technology to a country that hasn't signed CTBT and NPT, has conducted nuclear tests and has an expanding nuclear arsenal would actually undermine Japan's nonproliferation posture. It would also mark the final international approval of India's nuclear weapons outside the NPT.

Japan initially demanded that India sign the CTBT and NPT, but later rescinded this position to ask for a no-test pledge in the bilateral agreement in exchange for civilian nuclear technology. India, after out-manuevering the entire NPT system, hasn't shown any laxity vis-a-vis Japan. Further diluting Japan's diplomatic stance, the former Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada inserted a minimum condition requiring an automatic termination clause in the bilateral agreement in case of any further nuclear tests by India. But even that was not acceptable to India, a country with an ambitious self-image.

Japan has also been under pressure from the US and France to culminate the agreement with India at the earliest as their reactor projects in India cannot kick-start without a legal India-Japan nuclear agreement.  That's because two American nuclear energy giants now have majority Japanese shares – GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse-Toshiba and Japan Steel Works (JSW) manufactures the most critical equipment in these designs – the calendria or the reactor pressure vessel.

Japan's nuclear corporations – Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi – are also pushing Japan for an agreement with India as the financial crisis of their nuclear business after Fukushima is becoming deeper by every passing day.

Besides US influence and commercial interests, Japan also has the Asian strategy in eye where India is an indispensable partner. Especially under the current PM Shinzo Abe, who has an extremely controversial re-militarist agenda for Japan, India has assumed higher significance for the Japanese foreign policy. In a clear militarist turn for the India-Japan relationship, the two countries have escalated joint naval exercises in the Indian ocean, despite China's apprehensions. India is going to be the first importer of Japan-made Shin Meiwa US-2 fighter jets after resumption of arms exports by Japan under Shinzo Abe, ending the postwar Japan's policy of not keeping an active military and not exporting arms to other countries.

The Death Knell for the Non-Proliferation Regime?

The India-Japan nuclear agreement would be the final seal of approval for a nuclear weapons state outside the NPT. Successive NPT Review Conferences have called for universalisation of the Treaty by bringing the 3 hold-outs in its fold. The India-Japan agreement would make it impossible as India would enjoy all benefits of the NPT without signing it and would have no incentive or pressure to join the Treaty.

Under an ultra-nationalist party's rule, India's foreign policy is becoming increasingly belligerent and the India-Japan agreement not only legitimises India's atomic weapons at a normative level but also actually boosts the country's nuclear arsenal by allowing it to use its entire domestic uranium reserve for making more weapons while using imported uranium and imported reactors under the IAEA for civilian purposes.

The mainstreaming and boosting of India's weapons capacities and Japan's militarist push in Asia both are happening with a helping hand from the US which has its own grand strategy of pitching India and Japan against China. And on the civilian side, it has a huge interest in opening a new market in India for its nuclear corporations.

However, is the world ready to accept a wholesale destruction of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime for such short-term ambitions and misplaced interests? This is the question the Hiroshima and Nagasaki mayors are asking today.

Kumar Sundaram is a researcher associated with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India.

Image credits:

Sam Kerson, "46 Years after".
Sam Kerson, "Consequences of DU".
Sam Kerson, "The Burning Sensation".
All from the series "Weapons of Mass Destruction", mixed media,2005.
Copyright © Kumar Sundaram. All rights reserved.