While Modi’s visit to Japan in early September yielded dividends in other sectors, it failed to accomplish on the nuclear deal between the two countries. Reactions (or the lack of them) from Washington DC are important and warrant analysis, as India’s civilian nuclear cooperation with the US is stuck, primarily due to the Liability Bill issue.
Much depends how the US perceives and reacts to the India-Japan nuclear deal, for two reasons; Japan is one of the most important post-War allies of the US and secondly, Japan and the US are share a common ground to cooperate with India through a civil nuclear deal.
US: Role Versus Reaction
The role of the US has been critical in influencing the India-Japan nuclear deal. Two developments in particular, the IAEA approval and the NSG waiver, were vital in effecting a change of heart in the global strategic community towards India’s inclusion and acceptance as a nuclear responsible state. This change included Japan.
The reaction of the US, on the other hand, towards the failure of the India-Japan nuclear deal has been akin to one of a mute spectator and probably, deliberately so. The US, on expected lines, has kept restraint in showing its reactions over a nuclear deal in which Japan is involved, given the unfortunate nuclear history between the two countries. Such a measured response from the US is, probably, to find a balance between its desire to make India a more nuclear-responsible state, and the benefits that are likely to accrue to the US in the eventuality of an India-Japan nuclear deal.
The US itself has a significant nuclear cooperation with Japan primarily comprising research in fast reactor technology, fuel cycle technology, advanced computer simulation and modelling, small and medium reactors, safeguards and physical protection; and nuclear waste management. A common nuclear cooperation with India of both Japan and the US could result in a nuclear ‘Coalition of the Willing.’ A history of trilateral talks between India, Japan and the US since 2011, adds to this expectation. In cooperating with Japan and the US, India will stand to gain on a multilateral nuclear cooperation forum. In Japan, India also sees a potential supplier of reactors. Furthermore, interlinked economic stakes of the US and Japanese companies in nuclear cooperation makes it worth for India to bring the negotiations in this regard to a conclusive halt with Japan at the soonest. The US therefore, is expected to clandestinely influence the civil nuclear deal between India and Japan without showing either too much curiosity or disinterest, as there are many convergences between Japan and the US on their civ-nuke cooperation with India.
Behind the curtain cooperation?
There is a possibility that the US and Japan could be working behind the curtain to get India to the nuclear negotiating table, which it has thus far eschewed. The US understands that India’s deal with Japan could be a noose that it can tighten anytime, particularly at a nascent stage when it is still being negotiated. Blocking India’s civil nuclear deal with Japan is certainly not in the interest of the US, but delaying it might well prove useful. A prolonged delay in the deal could see an energy-deficit and frustrated India, with two of its civil-nuclear cooperation efforts in limbo, willing to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Evidence towards this lies in the September 17 announcement by Nisha Biswal that, “There is a very strong desire by this new government, and a very strong desire by the US, to work through those tough issues and to be able to make progress.”
The fact that the new government in India has shown a “strong desire” to work through “tough issues” related to the civ-nuke cooperation just after the failure to reach an agreement on the issue with Japan shows India’s diminishing patience with its unsuccessful civil-nuclear forays. An agreement with the US vis-à-vis the nuclear deal, which appears to be on the cards during Modi’s US visit, might well be the gateway to a similar deal with Japan.
The recent failure to finalise the deal with Japan is unlikely to cast its shadow on the much ballyhooed visit of Narendra Modi to the US. However, the civil nuclear cooperation between India and the US is expected to be a dominating issue.