Worse Than Expected, Please Do Not Ratify

Worse Than Expected, Please Do Not Ratify

Will the recently signed agreement for nuclear cooperation between Japan and India strengthen the international non-proliferation regime and reduce nuclear threats in Asia? Two APLN experts conclude that it will not. Rather it could help the expansion of India’s nuclear weapon program free of international pressure. They urge the Parliaments of Japan and India to consider carefully the dangers of ratification of a flawed treaty.  


On 11 November 2016, the Governments of India and Japan signed an agreement allowing Japan to export civilian nuclear technologies and components to India. We express our deep concern and disappointment with this agreement, as it would undermine the international non-proliferation regime and would likely help India, a non-member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enhance its nuclear-weapon capability.

First, we believe this is a significant setback in reducing nuclear threats in South Asia as it could escalate the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. South Asian tensions are no longer just a regional matter because of the potentially catastrophic global humanitarian consequences of a nuclear exchange in South Asia. This agreement, like other similar agreements concluded between nuclear suppliers and India, would not only keep India’s nuclear weapon program intact, it may help its expansion without much international pressure. Although India has agreed to accept international safeguards over the material and technologies transferred under the agreement, those facilities that are producing plutonium are not under international safeguards. This agreement, therefore, will not undermine production capability of fissile materials for weapons in India. It will naturally lead to an expansion of the nuclear weapon program in Pakistan through production of more fissile materials.

Second, this agreement is not strong enough to prevent India from conducting nuclear tests if it so wishes. Although Japanese government officials defend the agreement, asserting that it is an effective non-proliferation measure since Japan can terminate cooperation once India conducts a nuclear test, we believe such a condition is not clearly stipulated in the agreement. Article 14 of the agreement only says that if a situation arises when Japan wishes to terminate the agreement, it is required to submit a notice one year in advance, and to negotiate with India taking into account India’s “serious concern about a changed security environment.”

In addition, Japan needs to pay compensation to India for the loss caused by termination. Regarding this point, Japanese government officials refer to a separate document entitled “Note on Views and Understanding” which states that India’s moratorium on testing, announced by India in 2008, is “an essential basis” for the agreement. Whether this constitutes a legally binding condition for sustaining the agreement, however, is questionable. In fact, according to the press, an Indian official said that the only “binding provisions are in the bilateral agreement,” clearly implying that the attached “Note on Views and Understanding” is not a legally binding document.

Third, the agreement has weaker conditions on so-called sensitive technologies and fissile materials that can be used to produce nuclear weapons, compared with similar agreements that Japan concluded with NPT countries. Article 2 allows transfer of sensitive technologies “when this Agreement is amended for that purpose.” Article 11 allows India to proceed with enriching the transferred uranium over 20 per cent and reprocessing of spent fuel, if “written consent” by Japan is obtained.

Typically, the Japanese government does not allow transfer of sensitive technologies and enrichment higher than 20 per cent as well as reprocessing of spent fuel. For example, the agreement with Vietnam prohibits transfer of sensitive technologies, and enrichment or reprocessing of materials transferred under the agreement. This may reflect Japan’s own nuclear fuel cycle policy which allows Japan to have both enrichment and reprocessing facilities, although they are under full-scope international safeguards. In particular, we are concerned about Japan’s continued reprocessing program which has accumulated more than 48 tons as a result of past reprocessing activities. It would have been difficult for Japan to deny rights of enrichment and reprocessing in India.

In short, the agreement cannot prevent India from continuing its nuclear-weapon program and benefitting at the same time from transferred civilian nuclear technologies and materials which could eventually be diverted for military purposes. This is a clear violation of the spirit of NPT. When the pact is submitted for its endorsement, the Diet in Japan needs to scrutinize whether it is appropriate from the viewpoint of the international regime against nuclear proliferation and consistent with the efforts of Japan — the sole country to have experienced nuclear attacks — to promote nonproliferation and the abolition of nuclear arms. We also urge the Parliament of India to do the same thing, to determine whether this agreement would not increase the risk of nuclear arms race in the region.

Relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated with several incidents taking place around the Line of Control involving the deaths of military personnel and others. The international community must therefore act with responsibility. India’s persistent quest for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group must also be viewed in this context with Pakistan making similar efforts supported by China. A new Commander-in-Chief takes over control of the US nuclear establishment in January 2017 and uncertainty surrounds his nuclear doctrine. Predictability is therefore vital especially with countries who have long pledged themselves to the NPT.

About the Author

Jayantha Dhanapala, an APLN member, is a former UN Under-Secretary-General and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, an APLN member, is Director/Professor, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA).

Disclaimer: The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members. The APLN’s website is a source of authoritative research and analysis and serves as a platform for debate and discussion among our senior network members, experts and practitioners, as well as the next generation of policymakers, analysts and advocates. Comments and responses can be emailed to apln@apln.network. 

Image: Pixabay stock.

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