Will No-Test Condition Sink India-Japan Nuclear Deal?

By Eric Auner

As I reported in September, India and Japan have been discussing a potential civil nuclear deal.  As a major supporter of the nonproliferation regime, Japan has suggested that it will attach a condition whereby cooperation would cease in the event of a future Indian test.  As Global Security Newswire reports, India is unenthusiastic about such a condition:

India has spurned suggested language in a nuclear trade agreement with Japan that would freeze the deal should the South Asian state carry out another atomic test blast, Kyodo News reported today (see GSN, Aug. 23).

“I hear India has not been convinced” by Tokyo’s proposed clause, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters today.

At this point it is unclear whether this disagreement will preclude an India-Japan agreement.  India has fiercely defended it’s right to conduct future tests, and the final version of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement did not contain a no-test condition.  However, the size of the Indian civil nuclear market, as well as the importance of Japan as a supplier of nuclear components, creates incentives for both sides to reach a compromise.

The U.S.-India negotiations were an opportunity to clarify the consequences of a future Indian test.  The current ambiguity puts Japan in a difficult position where it is asking for more stringent nonproliferation restrictions than other countries looking to conduct nuclear commerce with India.

Even so, James Acton argues convincingly that Japan has a strong hand in these negotiations, and should use it to obtain meaningful commitments from India:

Japan has considerable leverage.

Japan has special expertise in manufacturing large and complicated components for both reactor vessels and steam generators (which convert steam into electricity). Indeed, three out of the four modern American and French reactors contain at least one component that can be manufactured in Japan and nowhere else. If India wants to buy any of them, it needs an agreement with Japan.

Of course, Japan’s monopoly of supply is unlikely to last forever. But, the very fact that France and United States have been pushing Japan to conclude an agreement is strong evidence that they believe there is no alternative supplier on the horizon.

An agreement is, therefore, worth much more to India than it is to Japan. This puts Japan in a position to play hardball.

If Japan holds firm on the no-test condition, it could serve as an example for other countries looking to conduct nuclear commerce with non-NPT signatories.

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