Nuclear Deal between Japan and India: A Brief Stocktaking

Sukla Sen

Sukla Sen is a senior anti-nuke peace activist and one of the founding members of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace(CNDP).”

The Indian media is right now busy trumpeting that the long talked of nuclear deal between Japan and India has been successfully inked. A careful reading, however, reveals that what has been signed is actually an MoU. And, an MoU, as is common knowledge, does not amount to an “agreement”. It is rather a statement of intent.

Joint Declaration

While the text of the subject MoU is apparently not yet available for public viewing and scrutiny, the Indo-Japan joint declaration, dated December 12th, elaborating on the whole gamut of outcomes of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India (11-13 December, 2015), under a rather presumptuous caption, has been duly released.

Paragraph 13 of this joint statement directly refers to the nuclear deal. It says:
“The two Prime Ministers welcomed the agreement reached between the two Governments on the Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of India for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, and confirmed that this Agreement will be signed after the technical details are finalised, including those related to the necessary internal procedures.”

So, it is actually an agreement on the purported “Agreement” (for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy) and the “Agreement” itself remains to be signed. More importantly, before the “Agreement” is eventually signed “the technical details” are to be “finalised” and “necessary internal procedures” are to be wrapped up.

No clue here has been provided as regards “the technical details” other than “necessary internal procedures”. Nor any timeline has been laid down for signing the “Agreement”.

An NDTV report, in this regard, avers:

“Similarly, while they agreed to work towards cooperation in civil-nuclear technology, they stopped short of signing an agreement, citing outstanding technical and legal differences.

“Mr Jaishankar did not cite a timeline for signing the final agreement with Japan.
“Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, has been demanding additional non-proliferation guarantees from India before it exports nuclear reactors.” (See)

Also of interest is the following: “Briefing the media, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said that they have reached a substantive agreement [emphasis added] on the Indo-Japan nuclear deal and only legal scrubbing was to be taken into consideration. “I would hesitate to put up a timeline because I am not conversant with the Japanese internal procedures and their timelines. But the fact that we have concluded negotiations, the two Prime Ministers have signed the memorandum speaks for itself,” Mr Jaishankar said.” (See: .) The same report further adds: “While the countries “in principle” agreed on cooperation in civil nuclear energy, Japan also cautioned India that it will be “quite natural” for it to review its cooperation if New Delhi goes for a nuclear test. However, Japan asserted that it does not see India moving in that direction.”

A comment of the ToI correspondent Indrani Bagchi on this issue may also be taken note of in the given context: “Abe will have to get this agreement through the Japanese parliament, where he is sure to face a pushback from Japanese lawmakers who may not be as convinced about erstwhile nuclear outlier, India.” (See)

Past Context

Given the history of previous negotiations between the two countries, since 2010, para 42 of the joint declaration, even if separated apart from the aforesaid para 13, is worth taking note of: “The two Prime Ministers, on the occasion of the 70th year since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reaffirmed their shared commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. They called for an immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) on the basis of Shannon Mandate. In this context, Prime Minister Abe stressed the importance of early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which should lead to nuclear disarmament. They also supported the strengthening of international cooperation to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

That these two paragraphs have been separated apart perhaps is of some significance. In the joint statement issued by Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe on January 25 2014, from New Delhi, these two issues of nuclear deal and nuclear disarmament were dealt with in two contiguous paragraphs – 32 and 33. (See)

Even in the last joint statement issued by Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi, on Sept. 1 2014 from Tokyo, “Civil Nuclear Energy, Non-proliferation and Export Control” were clubbed together in a single section. (See) Interestingly, this statement did not talk of nuclear disarmament.

Thus, while the two issues of nuclear deal and nuclear disarmament, viz. FMCT and CTBT, have been physically separated, the latter has nevertheless crawled back into the discourse. And, the possibility of these disarmament issues having a bearing on the unspecified “technical details” to be finalised cannot be ruled out altogether.

Broader Implications of the Deal

The caption of the previously referred Times of India news report on the subject issue aptly captures the immense significance of the purported deal: ‘Japan gives India its second most important nuclear deal’.

Apart from further legitimisation of India as a nuclear weapon state (NWS), despite it not being a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) – only India, Pakistan and Israel fall under this category while North Korea has dropped out subsequently; the deal will facilitate India’s agreements on supply of nuclear power plants with French Areva (for Jaitapur, Maharashtra) and the US-based GE-Hitachi (for Kovvada, AP)) and Westinghouse (for Mithi Virdi, Gujarat). (See here and here.)

The fact that both Japan and India are at the moment ruled by hard right-wing ultra-nationalist outfits having deep links with the business-industrial-nuclear lobbies has definitely helped to take the negotiations ahead.


In absence of access to the actual text of the subject MoU it is a bit hazardous to speculate on the precise status of the agreement on Agreement. It can, however, be safely inferred that while the signing of the MoU is definitely a step ahead towards clinching the Agreement, there exists still some, presumably significant (see), gap between the proverbial cup and the lip.

Having said that, getting the move scrapped at this stage would, however, call for herculean efforts on the part of the anti-nuke activists and civil society organisations in Japan and India. And elsewhere as well.

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