Japan Flexes Its Muscle

01/25/2011 03:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Rizwan Ladha PhD candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

The Global Security Newswire ran a short article on Wednesday 1/12 on the recently-inked civilian nuclear energy pact between France and India, wherein the French company Areva would build two nuclear power reactors at a site in India. The snag right now is that the construction of these reactors would require a particular piece of machinery -- an "extra large forging" -- which can only be provided by Japanese industry. Now Japan is stepping in and conditioning the provision of that crucial part: India should sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, for one. And India should sign the NPT as well.

Without getting into the feasibility of such a move -- after all, there is no way India is going to give up its ability to test, underground or otherwise, and would likely only join the NPT if Pakistan did so as well -- the Japanese strategy is a well-intentioned one. Why allow countries like India that lie outside the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to continue soliciting and receiving international assistance to develop an indigenous civilian nuclear energy program, all while facing little to no resistance to their growing military nuclear capability?

The Japanese are playing their cards well. They are effectively holding up their hands and saying, "Wait a second, France and India. You need our help in providing these forgings so that you can work together with each other in addressing India's energy needs, which is well and good. But India needs to demonstrate its willingness to join almost the entire international community and demonstrate its commitment to nonproliferation."

This is Japan taking a stand. Although it has a tremendous indigenous nuclear power capability and therefore is considered an industry leader in nuclear energy expertise and technology, it isn't a country that otherwise has significant muscles to flex in the nuclear world: It has no nuclear weapons of its own -- indeed, it relies on the extended deterrence umbrella of the United States. It is not a permanent member on the United Nations Security Council (in fact, Japan is not even currently on the UNSC). And aside from its involvement in the Six Party Talks revolving around North Korea (and that's for historical, cultural and obvious geostrategic reasons), Japan does not wield much power in international nuclear security discussions. It has been absent from any talks on Iran's nascent nuclear capability, which were led most recently by the "P5+1" (the five UNSC permanent members, plus Germany).

And yet, Japan is making a statement -- conditioning the further development of India's nuclear power industry on certain demonstrable nonproliferation commitments. India, for its part, needs all the assistance it can get -- it faces tremendous energy demands, and nuclear energy may very well present a scalable and relatively safe alternative to coal-based energy production. Moreover, India has diversified its reliance on the international community: in the past five years, it has concluded nuclear energy cooperation agreements with the United States, Russia, and France, among others.

In essence, therefore, Japan is demonstrating that if a number of like-minded nations can band together and present the same set of conditions to any country interested in nuclear energy -- not just India, but perhaps Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and/or Israel -- they can hold such indigenous nuclear power development hostage and present a situation of conditionality from which the country receiving assistance could not shy away.

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if, for example, Russia, France and the United States went along with Japan and threatened to cap or cut off their assistance to a country unless certain nonproliferation conditions were met. Imagine the enormous pressure that would be placed on that country.

This is hypothetical, of course -- but it certainly is something to ponder. And many important questions arise -- Is it feasible? Is it a model that would work for any country? Is it sustainable? How would one verify that commitments made are not just nominal?

Thoughts, comments, feedback all welcome.

**Update 1/25/2011** -- Just to enforce the above point, on Monday 1/24 the Global Security Newswire ran this article on Japan's insistence that the export of certain dual-use technologies to India be prohibited if India conducts any new nuclear tests. Once again, Japan provides conditionality and agrees to provide sensitive nuclear technology to India only if certain nonproliferation commitments are made. Kudos to the Japanese.