Japan’s Mistake at the NSG

Far Eastern Economic Review
Kono Taro, PNND Council
January 2009

Every year, Japan submits a resolution on nuclear disarmament to the United Nations General Assembly. This year was no different; the 15th such resolution was submitted in October. As the only country in the world against which nuclear weapons have been used, Japan understands the horror and devastation that they can cause. Our strong stance on nonproliferation and the fact that we do not possess nuclear weapons have been powerful arguments in favor of Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Quite rightly, for a country so committed to nonproliferation, Japan’s Foreign Ministry did not mince words when it commented on last year’s nuclear disarmament resolution: “The Government of Japan believes that there is need for further efforts to maintain and consolidate the international disarmament and nonproliferation regime based on the NPT. The submission of this draft resolution represents one of Japan’s concrete efforts.”

I am beginning to wonder, though, what exactly Japan’s other “concrete efforts” are. I cannot imagine that the Japanese representatives who agreed to the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement at the August meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) envisaged their yes vote as any sort of effort toward nuclear disarmament. The U.S.-India deal breaks every rule in the nonproliferation book, and Japan did nothing to stop it.

India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), nor does it have anything near comprehensive nuclear safeguards. Yet the international community deemed it appropriate to grant India the privilege of civilian nuclear cooperation. All other nonnuclear weapons states have had to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons in order to build nuclear power plants. India, which used materials and technology provided under a civilian agreement back in the 1970s to construct its first nuclear weapons, gets a special ticket.

It was because of India’s nuclear dishonesty that America formed the NSG. Did someone in the White House forget to mention that to President George W. Bush? I doubt it. The Bush administration knows exactly how contrived this deal is, and exactly how much damage it is already doing to the global nonproliferation effort. Yet it went ahead with it anyway, and even had the gall to attempt to argue at the same time that this was a deal that would be good for nonproliferation.

But how can a deal that prompts the Pakistani president to threaten the possibility of a nuclear arms race, that undermines a central tenet of the NPT and that renders NSG guidelines worthless be good for nonproliferation?

China has already stated it plans to sell two nuclear power plants to Pakistan — with or without NSG’s approval. North Korea looks set to stall once again on halting its nuclear program. Who wouldn’t when you can get a deal like India’s?

The U.S.-India nuclear deal will not stop India producing nuclear warheads. In fact, for the next few years, as India’s uranium mining and milling shortfall continues, the international uranium that India now has access to will free up indigenous Indian uranium for use in weapons manufacturing. If this were a deal that had taken into account serious nonproliferation concerns, India would have been required to sign the CTBT, as well as come to an international agreement on the cessation of fissile material production.

But the deal does none of these things. It is a deal made in spite of, not because of, global nonproliferation concerns, and its main aim is to cement a strategic partnership between the United States and India. If the Japanese government was really committed to maintaining and consolidating the international nuclear disarmament regime based on the NPT, it would not have voted in favor of the deal. It cannot change its vote now, but it could admit it was wrong and try to fix this mess.

The way forward from here is not simple, but Japan must try to redress the imbalance that the U.S.-India nuclear deal has created. If it leaves things as they are, nonproliferation efforts will suffer, as both the NPT and NSG lose validity.

I hope President-elect Barack Obama is able to live up to his word. He says he wants to make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of U.S. policy. America’s signature on the CTBT, followed swiftly by India’s, would be a step in the right direction.

Taro Kono, a Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House, is secretary general of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, Japan.
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