With the signing of the civil nuclear deal with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed one of his most successful foreign visits. The deal had been proposed six years ago and till very recently, it seemed that the process would not be concluded. The two prime ministers had signed a memorandum of understanding last December but the thorny issues of Japanese companies’ liability for nuclear accidents, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and the consequences of any future testing of nuclear weapons by India, remained on the table. The last stage of negotiations on the deal was keenly watched due to a “nullification clause”, which sought automatic cancellation of the agreement if India resorts to nuclear testing in the future. It was resolved by annexing a separate memorandum to the treaty which specifies that Japan can suspend cooperation if India breaches its no-testing pledge to the NSG. New Delhi conceded to Tokyo on another clause which says that Japan can notify India of the termination of the pact with one year’s notice.
Japan has civil nuclear treaties with 13 countries, including the US, France and Russia, but this is the first with a nation that is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). There were huge concerns in Japan over signing such a deal with a non-NPT member. But Tokyo said India’s pledge to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 to maintain a voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapons testing provides legitimacy for the pact. After signing the civil nuclear deal with the US in 2008, the NSG had accepted India’s pledge and lifted the embargo stretching back three decades on civil nuclear trade with New Delhi. Reiterating that status, this deal will help guarantee Japan’s continued support to India’s civil nuclear programme for generation of clean and cheap power. Apart from the Russian reactors, India’s planned nuclear reactors with France and US also depend on Japanese parts. Moreover, GE, Westinghouse, and Areva, the companies planning reactors in India, have important ownership stakes of Japanese companies such as Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, which were stopped by the Japanese government from doing business with India without a final nuclear deal.
Japan now follows eight other nations, including the US, France and Russia, in entering into a pact with India. It signals a wider acceptance of India’s status as a responsible actor. It thus becomes critical that senior cabinet ministers do not make statements, such as the one made last week by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on “no first use”. India’s global standing as a sober nuclear power is a hard fought one and this deal with Japan, as Prime Minister Modi rightly noted, is a ‘historic step’.