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Why relations with Japan are important

Manoj JoshiIn an interview to a Japanese newspaper last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India was not “currently” taking any steps to revise its nuclear doctrine. This is aimed at laying to rest concerns that the BJP election manifesto’s commitment to update and revise the nuclear doctrine could result in an abandonment of India’s no first use pledge and a more assertive Indian nuclear posture.

He made it clear, and this has been the Indian negotiating position with Japan on this issue, that India will stick to the non-proliferation commitments that it has already made to the US and other countries declaring that India remained committed “to maintaining a unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.”

Prime Minister Modi with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe after a joint press conference at Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo yesterday. Pic/AFP
Prime Minister Modi with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe after a joint press conference at Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo yesterday. Pic/AFP

Modi’s strong reiteration of India’s seemingly contradictory posture of being a nuclear armed state and one that is committed to nuclear disarmament and the principles of non-proliferation is aimed at bringing Japan around to a nuclear deal with India. There is a lot at stake here — Japan’s Toshiba controls Westinghouse, a premier American maker of nuclear reactors. In addition, many key components for western reactors are sourced from Japanese vendors. A deal with Japan will smoothen the path towards civil nuclear cooperation with western countries.

Of course, the operative word here is “currently”. Modi did, in all fairness, emphasise that doctrines were flexible, dependent on the prevailing strategic scenario. All this is in line with the stand India has taken from the very outset. All this is important because of the incredible surge in the modernisation of the Chinese military. The simple logic is that the Chinese are benchmarking their capabilities with those of the United States. But those very capabilities can have adverse implications for us. As is well known, in realist thinking, what matters are capabilities, not intentions which cannot be easily gauged.

In the past eight months of the year, we have seen significant developments that have direct implications for us. First, at the beginning of the year, we saw the military exercise in which three ships, including the Changbaishan-— China’s largest landing craft that can carry a marine battalion and 15-20 armoured vehicles — crossed the Makassar Straits between Sulawesi and Kalimantan, and then went through the Lombok straits and entered the Indian Ocean. According to Chinese sources, the exercise was aimed at displaying the ability to break through a strait which may be under the control of an adversary. Then came the patrol of a single Chinese Shang Class submarine which came through the Ombai Wetar Straits near Papua New Guinea, and surfaced near Somalia.

The third was the test of a boost glide hypersonic vehicle dubbed WU 14 by the West. Though this is meant to overcome American ballistic missile defences, the capability of such vehicles as nuclear weapon delivery systems has implications for India’s deterrence capabilities. The fourth was the Chinese ballistic missile test of July 2014. In the past four years, China has reportedly conducted three successful mid-course ballistic missile defence tests. This is an area where the US is clearly number one, but is having problems with its programme. What is germane here is the speed with which China is catching up with the US in the high-tech areas like boost glide weapons and BMD systems. According to analysts, China may be just four or five years behind the US in both these areas.

Earlier this year, Frank Kendall, US Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, told a US Congressional committee that the US technological superiority is being “challenged in ways that I have not seen for decades.” He went on to add that “this is not a future problem. This is a here-now problem.”

The implications for India are obvious. Such technologies, designed to overcome US defences, can pose a threat to our very limited nuclear capabilities. The Chinese are developing them because they fear that the US could use them for a first strike to disarm China’s limited forces. By the same logic, China can do the same to us.

It is in this context that relations with Japan are important. In terms of technology, Japan is way ahead of us and China in many areas. While for the present, Japan maintains restrictions in the export of its defence technologies; it is moving slowly but surely towards opening up. It may be some time before we can expect Japan to export complete weapons systems, but Japanese technologies, be they the fly-by-light aircraft control systems, sonar equipment, or those that go into its own BMD systems, can be very useful.

Equally important is Japanese goodwill to join the four key technology denial cartels — the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Since these restrict key dual use technologies in a range of areas from chemical, machine tools, nuclear and aerospace industries, it is important for India to be inside the cartel rather than the outside. As part of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Americans are committed to helping us join them, but the heavy lifting with the more skittish members of the cartels, like Japan, has to be done by New Delhi itself.

The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

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