08 December 2001

The Tokyo Trap

8 December 2001
The Times of India

The Tokyo Trap

Siddharth Varadarajan

Tokyo: The Bush administration may have killed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but when Prime Minister Vajpayee arrives here this week, he will still be politely asked to sign it.

Four years after New Delhi stunned the world with its nuclear tests, the Japanese government and strategic community have not been able to reconcile themselves to the idea of a nuclear-armed subcontinent. Though Tokyo appreciates what it says is the restraint india has shown in terms of nuclear doctrine and posture, it is keen for India legally to commit itself to a ban on further nuclear tests. ‘‘Since Vajpayee told us India will not test until the CTBT comes into force, this means India is saying it will never test again. So why not sign the treaty?’’, a senior foreign ministry official told this writer.

A number of Japanese analysts working on nuclear issues also conveyed a similar demand. To the extent to which the Japanese perspective is driven by fears that India may test again, such a view is understandable. But what is difficult to understand is the tenacity with which Tokyo is clinging to the discourse of ‘non-proliferation’ built around the CTBT and Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty — even as the US missile defence programme is forcing ardent believers in nuclear theology to turn apostate. Emotionally and officially, Japan is still wedded to the goal of universal nuclear disarmament but it is unable to resist the drive towards a new arms race that the US is imposing on the world.

With a new class of offensive ‘defensive’ weapons being developed in the first step towards the militarisation of outer space, one would have thought opposing the US missile defence programme is a far more pressing goal than getting India to sign the CTBT. Yet, many analysts here seem to accept not just the rationale of the programme but also Japan’s participation in it.

Whatever its misgivings about the impact of the larger national missile defence (NMD) programme on strategic stability — Tokyo only abstained on a draft Russian-Chinese resolution on the anti-ballistic missile treaty at the UN last year rather than voting against it — the Japanese government is assisting the US in research on the more limited theatre missile defence (TMD) system to protect itself from the threat of ‘low density’ missile attacks.

Prof Satoshi Morimoto, a former diplomat and air force officer, supports Japan’s cooperation with the US especially because of North Korea’s Taepodong missiles. ‘‘Of course, if the US, Japan and Taiwan are linked together in missile defence, this would alarm China’’. He believes China will try and develop a land-based system but does not rule out Beijing ending its moratorium on nuclear tests. ‘‘This depends on how Washington handles the US-China relationship. The Peoples’ Liberation Army is very nationalist and anti-American. So if pushed, they could react to US pressure by testing. But the Chinese political leadership has no such intentions’’.

Mr Morimoto concedes that the impact of the NDM/TMD programmes in East Asia would have a bearing on South Asia. ‘‘China’s nuclear development is the key. The Indian programme will be based on how to react to the Chinese threat. And Pakistan’s on India’s’’. However, Masahiro Omura, research director at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, feels Japan’s participation in TMD would have no wider repercussions. ‘‘We want to protect Japan from the mishandling of missiles by North Korea. We are not even talking about a system to defend ourselves from China’’, he says. ‘‘For this reason, China need not be alarmed. That is why we are encouraging the US to have a dialogue with China, to help address its concerns’’.

This confidence about missile defence not triggering an arms race is shared by Ambassador Ryukichi Imai of the Institute for International Policy Studies. ‘‘China has never been in an arms race with the US’’, he says. ‘‘I am not very convinced about their technological capabilities. I don’t think China has a great capacity to build missiles to reach the US’’. At the same time, Mr Imai is not very convinced about the TMD rationale. ‘‘I don’t think North Korea has nuclear weapons. They don’t have more than a kilo of plutonium’’. According to Mr Imai, the Japanese government’s emphasis on a (sea-based) TMD system ‘‘has probably more to do with the politics of the budget of the three services since the navy is due for a big project’’.

For Prof Mitsuru Kurosawa of Osaka University, a specialist on disarmament affairs, the NMD is fraught with destabilising potential in part because it means unilateral US defence of its homeland. As for TMD, he feels this is of limited value. ‘‘A better way to deal with our Korean concerns is for US, Russia, Japan and China to work together in projects like the Korean peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO)’’ devised in 1994 to deal with fears of a North Korean nuclear weapons programme. Unfortunately, says Mr Kurosawa, far from pursuing the cooperative security framework established by Mr Clinton, the Bush administration is undermining the inter-Korean dialogue process.

Mr Kurosawa is also not impressed with US claims that missile defence is needed to deal with so-called ‘rogue states’. ‘‘The system will take more than 10 years to develop so obviously it is aimed at China and Russia. The aim is clearly to dissuade Beijing from increasing the number of its missiles. The US wants to be top of the world, a hegemon’’. By linking NMD with TMD, the US hopes to win over Europe and Japan, feels Mr Kurosawa, but strategic stability will still be affected. ‘‘One of the biggest problems we face is the unilateralism of the US. Its stand on the CTBT is based on its perception of whether the treaty ensures the technological superiority of the US arsenal or not. On afghanistan, it did not want a UN mandate because that would limit its freedom to operate. Even on reducing the number of strategic missiles, Mr Bush wants to act unilaterally rather than reach a transparent, irreversible and verifiable agreement with Russia’’.

Even though under some scenarios, Japan’s own security interests might be compromised, most Japanese analysts do not expect Tokyo to play much of a restraining role vis-a-vis Washington. ‘‘Institutionally’’, said one senior japanese official who did not wish to be identified, ‘‘people build their careers in the foreign ministry on the basis of the centrality of the US-Japan security relationship. This is the basic infrastructure and it is not to be disturbed or changed’’.

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