It is a landmark civil nuclear deal India and Japan have signed after six years of hard negotiations, a deal that is highly significant for both the countries. Through the Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, India gets access to Japan’s nuclear market. And it also makes the Indo-US nuclear deal effective, since it now unshackles US-based nuclear reactor manufacturers like Westinghouse, GE Energy and Areva to set up business in India. These companies are after all owned and controlled by Japanese majors like Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi. Japanese nuclear companies themselves are eyeing the Indian market where countries like Russia and France have already taken a headstart; the deal signed in Tokyo on Sunday will allow Japan to supply nuclear reactors, fuel and technology to India. Given its chronic power deficiency, India has to move fast on its aim to raise nuclear power generation ten-fold by 2032, and Japan’s technical support promises to be the key here. But there are a couple of firsts to this Indo-Japan nuclear deal — India is the first non-member of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) with which Japan has signed such a deal, while it is the first time India has agreed to a ‘nullification clause’ which Japan can use to termite the deal. The Shinzo Abe government had to face political resistance in parliament to the deal due to India’s non-NPT status. When negotiations began with New Delhi in 2010 during UPA rule, Tokyo insisted not only that the deal be used for peaceful purposes, it also sought a moratorium on any further nuclear tests by India. It appears that India has now given such an assurance, by signing a separate text titled ‘Note on Views and Understanding‘. The Japanese side has reportedly said that India has reaffirmed its commitment to a ‘unilateral, voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing’ in this separate note which is ‘legally binding’. If India goes back on this commitment, Japan will not only exit from the deal, it will also have the right to contest any compensation claim by India.
Such a commitment is noteworthy, as India had stoutly resisted Washington’s pressure to incorporate a legally binding clause on ‘voluntary moratorium’ in the civil nuclear deal signed with the US in 2007. It seems the Indian negotiators this time were extra-careful not to tread on Japanese sensitivity on this issue, keeping in mind Japan’s status as the only tion victimized by nuclear holocaust. However, the Indian side has indulged in typical play of words by terming the separate note to be a ‘reflection of views’ of the two sides as per their separate tiol prerogatives. The Indian position is based on a statement (political, not legal) made in 2008 by the then Exterl Affairs Minister Prab Mukherjee affirming no-first use policy for nuclear weapons and voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. Be as it may, Japan had signed civil nuclear deals with 13 countries including France and the US, before its deal with India. It comes against a backdrop of growing tensions in East and South Chi Sea over Chi’s muscle flexing, parts of which Japan has laid claims to. Reacting to the Indo-Japan deal, Beijing has already made it clear that it will play the NSG card against New Delhi by insisting that while all countries are entitled to peaceful use of atomic energy, they must abide by the NPT regime. It has to be remembered that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is not a treaty, but a 48-member cartel of nuclear equipment and material suppliers that operates by consensus, where NPT is just a guideline. The US may have wangled a waiver from the NSG in favour of India in 2008 on civil nuclear trade — to which Chi had reluctantly given its assent, but it is now determined to play hardball. This is something that will require an all out diplomatic effort from New Delhi to neutralize, even though there are legitimate grounds to wonder whether India should at all hanker for a second class status in a grouping that has armed itself with the provision to deny enrichment and reprocessing technologies to any member that is not a sigtory to the NPT.