Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Hiroshima haunts

by Ashok Ashta

The US Deputy Secretary Armitages recent visit to Delhi also took him to Tokyo, where it created a media reaction. The nature of that reaction was not related to the content of the message he was carrying; rather it was because the new foreign minister cited a busy schedule and refused to meet the special envoy of Japans most important ally. This created a sensation.

Whether or not Tanakas decision was a conscious preemptive move is a moot question. By deflecting the attention from the message Armitage was carrying, she deftly achieved a win-win situation for the new Japanese government. Japan has neither endorsed nor disapproved of Bushs unilateral decision. Now, should Bush go ahead, Japan gains added security against its traditional defense concern - China. Its important to remember that historically China has had designs to conquer Japan, failing on two occasions because of the unfavorable winds that stopped their navy (the Japanese call it gods winds - Kamikaze).

Due to the mass destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese abhor war and mindless militarism. So, the government in power would be committing political suicide even if it appears to accept Bushs NMD measures, which the Japanese media says would definitely create an arms race escalation in the region.

However, the Japanese government cannot be governed by emotions. Those in power realise they have to be pragmatic about Japans defence needs and since the post-war Constitution places severe restrictions on the operation of Japans Self Defence Forces (as its military is referred to), they have been outsourcing their defence requirements to the US. Indeed, the local population has long considered the US military bases in Japan a nuisance, but such local concerns have been glossed over by the government for reasons of national security.

By showing little or no importance to the Armitage mission, the Japanese government, at least in public, demonstrated indifference to Bushs initiative, thereby precluding a critical media analysis of the core issue - the appropriateness of the NMD. Tokyos manoeuvring was different from how the Indian government handled the visit. Certainly, there was scope for cooperation on the India-Japan front on this important issue.

Months before the then Japanese prime ministers visit to India in August last year, the two sides have been holding talks on a strategic bilateral defence alliance even as the smoke from the Pokhran blasts still loomed over the horizon. Since both governments undertake (in public at least) the common cause of reducing global militarisation, especially of the nuclear nature, the paradigm shift from MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) to NMD should be of concern. For NMD is a measure that has prompted Russia, and especially China, to review their current missile delivery capabilities, forcing their economies to divert important funds to a second arms build-up.

The trickle down effect on India would be even worse. In a country where one-third of the population remains illiterate and a State which is unable to ensure 24-hour electric power supply in its capital even 50 years after becoming independent, avoiding the need for further heavy investments in military R&D should be the need of the hour. For sure, our defence forces should be maintained within the realm of existing technologies; but it would be sad if India has to invest more and more to indigenously develop new technologies to maintain its defence requirements.

The effect on the so-called Rogue States' that the NMD purportedly is aimed at would be far worse. In these countries, funds would again be diverted from essential food and medicine supplies for their suffering people to clandestine purchases of newer technologies.

The reason for Japan to find common cause is their concern for how the Indian government uses its funding. The Japanese ambassador was recently in the news for wanting to know how their emergency relief for the Gujarat quake was used. A senior PMO official retorted that the PMs relief fund was not subject to accountability!

A 100 per cent educated Indian society would have created an uproar over the response that transparency in the governments dealings are not important. As the Tehelka scam has exposed, even the top brass of our defence forces can succumb to the lure of easy money, however small the sums may be.

The benefits of India-Japan relations cannot remain solely for the enjoyment of political leaders and their diplomatic communities. The benefits must flow down to the common citizen. India has a lot to learn from Japans compulsory education system that has created one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. A country capable of launching satellites into space must devote itself to give equal and modern education to its entire people; give them drinking water in drought-hit areas, help them stand when a catastrophe hits them, and eradicate stark poverty. These are the core issues' of the day - not falling into the trap of high cost development of new defence technologies.

Japan has not committed itself to Bush as yet. The Indo-Japanese bilateral strategic defence alliance could be developed as a forum to ask Bush to reconsider his policy. If successful, both countries, which want a permanent membership of the Security Council, will demonstrate to the world the power of their traditionally friendly relations. They can make a truly global contribution. Importantly, it will allow the bilateral interaction to concentrate on the ultimate goal - the economic, social and cultural prosperity of their peoples.

Ashok Ashta is President of BUSINESS-INDIA/JAPAN, a private enterprise promoting Indo-Japanese Cultural and Business relations.

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