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Paper 126

by  Dr. Subhash Kapila

At the turn of the millenium when the post – Cold War realities in the international arena are at last taking some predictable shape the major nations of the world are in the process of reviewing and redefining their foreign policy priorities and preferences. Countries like Japan and India, aspiring for major international roles, would have to think of strategic and security matters on a global scale and context.  Both countries would have to break out of their regional security contexts if they wish to achieve the status they aspire for. Cold War mind-sets would need discarding and extra-regional strategic cooperation in the comprehensive security context explored.

Japan and India, are both poised at a historical stage in their political development, aided by contemporary strategic and security developments, both global and regional to reach out to each other in terms of strategic cooperation. Japan – India strategic cooperation would not only contribute to Asia – Pacific stability but also to global stability as a whole.

Political Aspirations

Japanese political aspirations stand summed up in a recent issue of The Economist which states "Japan’s ambitions do not stop at Asia. It makes no secret of its longing for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.  It has supported UN peace-keeping and reconstruction efforts not just in Cambodia and East Timor, but also in the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo.  It has its own ideas for reforming the big international financial institutions, the IMF and the World Bank ......" This lead article further points out that "Until now Japan has deliberately understated its weight ..... . that has changed. Today’s Japan wants and deserves more credit for all that it does to uphold Asia’s stability and prosperity. And the role Japan needs to play is itself also changing." 1

Avid Japan watchers namely the Chinese have arrived at the following assessments in terms of Japan’s political aspirations namely (1) Collapse of bi-polar world enables Japan to fulfill the aspirations of becoming a political power (2) Japan has been fervently seeking to exert influence in global and regional affairs since 1990. (3) Japan is in a transitional phase of converting its economic power to political power. (4) To be a true political power Japan will have to raise its political and military profile in the international arena. 2

India’s political aspirations are very nearly similar to those of Japan. India too has made no secret of its ambitions to attain a seat amongst the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. India has extensively participated in United Nations peace-keeping right from the 1950’s all over the world. India in addition shouldered UN combat responsibilities in Congo and Somalia. India too desires a re-structuring of global financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Like Japan, India’s voice has been counted for its moderation and conflict – resolution efforts at global fora.

In terms of political aspirations, there does not seem to be any competing conflict of political interests between Japan and India, neither globally nor regionally. Politically both Japan and India stand out in Asia as democratic nations, politically vibrant and with free societies. Both nations have espoused the cause of peace and economic cooperation. Japan has been a generous donor of foreign aid to under-developed countries.

Japanese and Indian Foreign Policies During the Cold War

The noted American specialist on Japanese foreign policies Edwin O Reischauer once observed that "Whatever the mechanism for formulating foreign policy, the chief determinants are inevitably the actual international realities and the national perception of these." 3 Necessarily so, it is the national perception of international realities which in the last fifty years or so, especially during the Cold War years, kept Japan and India distant from each other. Once again, the contemporary international realities of the post. Cold War era are gradually drawing Japan and India closer together.

Japan’s foreign policies during the Cold War era were conditioned by its alliance relationship with the United States and the West at the global level. Regionally it was conditioned by the US-Japan Mutual Security treaty of 1954 and further revisions thereafter. Hence Japanese foreign policies during this era were heavily conditioned and international realities viewed through American and Western eyes. India’s policies of non-alignment and yet her proximity to erstwhile Soviet union in strategic matters was suspect. It needs to be recalled that the USSR military presence in the Far East, Japan’s territorial dispute with it over the Northern Islands and the perceived threat to Japanese sea lanes from the Soviet Navy operating out of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam heavily influenced Japanese foreign policy formulations.

Correspondingly, India during the Cold War era pursued the policies of nonalignment and proclaimed that it would steer clear of both the blocs. However, it was not so clearly followed. forced by its wars with Pakistan, the military debacle with China in 1962 and the estranged relationship with USA, India had to rely heavily on Soviet military equipment for its armed forces and the Soviet veto in the United Nations on the Kashmir issue. This in the eyes of other nations, Japan inclusive, distorted India’s claims to be a truly non-aligned nation. Till 1962, Japan viewed India as a rising Asian power, and an alternative model to China, which could some day take over the leadership of Asia. The 1962 military humiliation by China of India was a disappointment to Japan and India fell low in Japanese foreign policy priorities. Diplomatic contacts thereafter became minimal.

Japanese and Indian Foreign Policies at the Turn of the Millennium

Japanese and Indian foreign policies at the turn of the millennium indicate changes reflecting the new international realities as the post - Cold War starts settling down after a decade of unpredictable regional and ethnic conflicts the world over. Irrespective of the time-frame, Japanese foreign policy planners have to face the following truisms in terms of perspectives, which were articulated nearly two decades back: 4

*  Japan lies in the centre of a highly strategic region which involve global powers like USA and Russia and other major power like China and the two Koreas.

*  Japan’s unprecedented reliance on external resources and markets set the broad perimeters within which Japanese foreign policy must operate.

*  "Japan would not be in a position to make regionalism the primary focus of its foreign policies, economic or political. The nature of developments has made Japan one of the first societies of the contemporary world with truly global interests."

*  "A minimal foreign policy can no longer produce the benefits that accrued during the firs two decades following World War II".

Japan therefore today has to reach out for newer relationships with content more strategic than economic in view of the changing strategic realities.  It is desirable for Japan to discard Cold War mind – sets and especially establish long term strategic relationships with the newer global power centres that are emerging.

India too should discard its Cold War mind-sets and needs to posit its foreign policy on the following perspectives.

*  The international order in the post – Cold War era is resolving itself into grouping which are regional, economic, strategic and religious.

*  In such an evolving global environment nonalignment policies are out dated and anachronistic.

*  India’s aspirations for great power status cannot be achieved through non-alignment, strategic ambiguities and strategic coyness.

*  India would need to make clear its strategic preferences and seek for a wide-ranging strategic cooperation further afield to serve its national interests.

Thus, India too, has to reach out strategic-ally to emerging power centres like Japan, nations with which there is no historical discord or disputes. This is what the changing international strategic realities dictate. In the process of reviewing and renewal of their foreign policies related to contemporary developments political space exists for both Japan and India to forge a strategic relationship.

Regional Security Environments of Japan and India and Threat Perceptions

Contemporarily Japan’s security environment is marked by the following developments, which are of great concern.

*  Concurrent with her economic advancement China has embarked on a significant upgradation and modernisation of her conventional forces and nuclear arsenals.

*  North Korea has emerged as a covert nuclear weapons state and has overt long range missile arsenal backing her sizeable conventional forces.

*  Japan exists in a highly militarised region surrounded by China, North Korea, Russia and South Korea. 5

*  If China takes over Taiwan, Japanese sea-lanes which are vital for her existence will be under potential Chinese threat.

*  A growing Chinese strategic nexus with Russia further complicates Japanese security environment.

United States as the uni-polar power has its hands full dealing with regional conflicts all over the world. Consequently, in Asia Pacific, Japan will have to shoulder additional defence responsibilities and loads. Today more than Russia it is China that has emerged as a major threat perception in the Asia Pacific. As one analyst puts it. "Beijing is clearly modernising its military forces and seems determined to have a more potent strategic deterrent, a first class air force and a blue water navy." 6 The extent of this modernisation can be gauged by further quoting this analyst "Most credible estimates of PRC military spending fall in the range of $ 30 billion to $ 50 billion a year." 7 This  raises justifiable security concerns in Japan.

India’s security environment in south Asia and contiguous regions is highly conflictual and troubled due to the following developments.

*  Nuclear weaponised and highly militarised Pakistan with a record of four wars with India, Currently under military dictatorship, the propensity for conflict is sharpened.

*  Cross border terrorism and proxy wars being activated in Kashmir using Islamic fundamentalist mercenaries, thereby testing India’s military patience.

*  China's strategic nexus with Pakistan. This incorporated supply of nuclear weapons blue prints and long range missile systems.

*  China’s use of North Korea to supply long range missiles to Pakistan in addition to those supplied by it, thereby adding to Pakistan missile holding.

*  China’s deployment of nuclear missiles on the Indian border i.e. in Tibet.

*  Afghanistan fractured by a civil war due to Pak aided Talibanisation. This is causing instability in South Asia and Central Asia.

*  Ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka.

*  Hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both these countries are exporting Islamic terrorism in contiguous areas and particularly in India.

A comparative analysis of the Japanese and Indian security environments would indicate that China looms large as the major security concern and a worrisome threat perception. In the case of India the Chinese threat perception is more acute because of the conflictual past, the border with Tibet where Chinese armed forces are deployed in strength. China is in a position to generate the full potential of its greatest strength i.e. military land power against India from the territory of Tibet.

Japan is comparatively lucky in that it has no contiguous land borders with China, but it is within easy range of China’s missile arsenal. The biggest potential threat to Japan from China is that China can very easily sever Japanese sea-lanes i.e. its very survival. These sea-lanes run perilously close to Chinese mainland and the problem could be more acute if Taiwan becomes part of China. The North Korean missile threat to Japan is co-attendant with that of China.

It would be seen that the regional security environments of Japan and India stand complicated and threats generated to their security directly by Chinese militarisation and build-up as a contiguous power. Chinese military build up by itself could have been viewed as legitimate and benign, but China’s nuclear weaponisation and missile build ups in North Korea and Pakistan betray other intentions. By themselves neither North Korea nor Pakistan had the technological capability nor financial resources to afford nuclear weapons and long range missiles. These missiles in the case of North Korea cover the Japanese heartland and Okinawa and in the case of Pakistan cover the Indian heartland, as graphically illustrated in a recent ‘Asiaweek’ journal. 7 It is legitimate to question as to why China provided these deadly arsenals to failing states likes North Korea and Pakistan, who are heading for ‘rogue nation’ status. The answer is obvious: China’s intentions were to develop strategic pressure points by proxy in South Asia against India and in North East Asia against Japan.

Japan and India thus face threats to their security from a common quarter, namely China. China has also seconded Pakistan and North Korea to add to these threats. Space therefore exists for Japan and India to carry out strategic dialogues for comprehensive security and also explore strategic cooperation.

Imperatives for Strategic Cooperation Between Japan and India

Japan and India in the past have demonstrated similar attitudes to matters strategic and military. Both the countries shied away from the acquisition of power and were apologetic about whatever military power they had. Japanese restraint arose from its World War II defeat, the restrictions imposed by the Japanese Constitution prepared under American guidance and a smugness that Japanese security would be ensured by the American shield of its Pacific ally.

India’s apologetic approach to military power and strategic cooperation arose from the pacifist leanings of its political leaders during the formative stages of building the Indian nation state from 1947 onwards. Its other off-spring i.e. the foreign policy of non-alignment ill-served India’s national interests. This is evident from the fact that a country of the size of India was subjected to four wars by Pakistan and one by China. In addition, both these countries generated and aided insurgencies on India’s borders.

At the turn of the millenium, imperatives exist for strategic cooperation between Japan and India and these are:

*  Japan and India are rising power centres of Asia, democratic countries with free societies and many shared values. With no competing conflictual interests, it is desirable that both nations strategically cooperate for stability and peace both in the regional and global context.

*  Japan and India both value the freedom of the high seas for their economic prosperity. India by its strategic location astride Japanese sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean affords security to Japanese survival. In the years to come Indian naval capabilities could provide this security right upto the South China Sea.

*  Japan and India have over-lapping strategic interests in the political stability and peace of the Middle East and South East Asia. India because of the ripple effects arising from geographical contiguity and Japan because of energy security and sea-lanes security. Japan – India strategic cooperation can ensure this to mutual benefit.

*  During the Cold War bi-polar security configuration, the two poles provided counter- vailing power to each other. The present uni-polar structure throws a disproportionate load for global security on USA and makes its counter-vailing power or interventionary power that much more diluted or selective.

*  In the context of the above the rising military power of China, both conventional and nuclear is worrisome. China’s rising power and intentions to challenge United States predominance in the Asia Pacific should prompt Japan and India to explore strategic cooperation to provide counter-vailing power to China’s might.

The imperatives for Japan-India strategic cooperation become that much more important when the United States in relation to China shies away from calling a spade a spade. Recent reports in the Washington Post suggest that a Joint Chiefs of Staff assessment which had listed China as a potential threat in its draft report has for its final presentation been changed to state ‘a rising power in East Asia’ or words to that effect. Ironically, the United States is following a historic parallel to what Britain was doing in respect of Germany before the First World War and Second World War.

Japan – India: Recognition of the Imperatives – A Beginning

Japan’s hard attitudes towards India following the 1998 Pokharan nuclear weapons tests has fortunately given way to a more impassioned stance on the subject. Similarly, India too, earlier disappointed and frustrated by Japan’s attitudes realised that in Japan the deliberation process is graduated and takes time. It is encouraging now to note that both countries have put aside the past and recognising the imperatives for strategic cooperation have made a beginning as the following developments would indicate:

*  Visit of Foreign Minister Yukiho Ikeda in July 1997. During visit Ikeda sensed possibility of a useful security engagement between Japan and India. 8

*  Three Japanese high officials visited India thereafter, until a brief cooling of relations took place in 1998. 9

*  Early 1999, Taro Nakayama former Foreign Minister visited India and handed over letter from Japanese Prime Minister to Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee.10

*  Visit of Tadashi Yamamoto this year to take part in Trade II India-Japan Policy Dialogue. He is President of the Japan Centre for International Exchange and has prepared a report for the Japanese PM on Japan’s goals for the 21st century.

*  Visit of Indian Defence Minister to Japan twice in five months, the second in June 2000. Earlier a visit by Indian Foreign Minister to Japan". 11

*  Since January 2000 Japanese Navy and Indian Navy ships carried out naval exercise off Mumbai and later these two navies joined the Vietnamese Navy for a tri-lateral exercise in South China Sea. 12

Besides the above official developments, academics and strategic analysts have called for a strategic cooperation and comprehensive security engagement between Japan and India. Prof. Seki writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review puts it bluntly: "There are good reasons to set in place a security framework that could contain any future Chinese adventurism. Within such an understanding a triangulation with India in the West and Japan in the East could form the basis to keep any Chinese belligerence in check and the region in peace." 13

In an article for the Indian Peace and Conflict Studies Institute, New Delhi, in February 2000, this author pointed out. "The new millenium witnesses changing security environments in both Japan’s and India’s neighbourhood, especially with nuclear and IRBM proliferation fuelled by China. China itself is propelling towards significant military build-up, both conventional and nuclear, which would be dreaded in contiguous regions. Unlike the Cold War where adversial intentions on both sides were predictable, China’s intentions are ambiguous and generate uncertainties. In such an uncertain Asian security environment, it is imperative that like minded Asian democracies (Japan and India) enter into comprehensive security dialogues to discern evolving security challenges." 14


The post Cold War era did not bring about the much heralded ‘peace dividend’ and a peaceful ‘New World Order’. As the euphoria of the Cold War started fading away nations in strategic regions of the world came to grips with the harsh realities that the predictable bi-polar template stood replaced by unpredictable security environments marked by regional and ethnic conflicts. In the Asia-Pacific, in the post - Cold War era, China has emerged as a formidable military power and with aspirations to become a super-power. Unlike the Cold War super-powers i.e. USA and USSR, China carries along with its ambitions a historical baggage of perceived injustices, territorial disputes and humiliations which are likely to make it more aggressive and unrestrained. Russia is in no position to restrain China’s ambitions. For reasons of its own it is virtually sponsoring a China – Russia strategic nexus. The United States today as the unipolar power, is in an imperial over-stretch strategically.

Also, in a historical parallel with Great Britains policies towards Germany before both World Wars the United States will react only when it is too late to contain China.

In such a global security environment, it falls to the lot of the next order of major powers, like Japan and India, in the Asia-Pacific, to enter into strategic cooperation to further the cause of peace and stability. The ‘raison d'etre’ is not to form military alliances and ring China and put it under siege. Strategic cooperation between countries like Japan and India would ensure that China does not run wild in Asia-Pacific and that it would exercise caution and restraint before it embarks on any mis-adventures or political coercion. Once again Prof Seki needs to be quoted in conclusion and that is: "With this in mind, the proposed strategic partnership between India and Japan should be one that contributes, as a long term goal, of the construction of a balanced triangle of forces in Asia. In this endeavour an India that is growing more dynamic economically and more closely associated with an increasingly prosperous Asia Pacific can play a bigger role in enhancing regional security. Japan’s task here is to ensure that the historic encounter between it and India, two nations, too long indifferent to each other become an effective international reality." 15




  1. See lead article "Can Japan find its Voice?" in "The Economist" of May 6th 2000 P 15.
  2. Rex Li, ‘Partners or Rivals: Chinese perceptions of Japanese Security Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region’ in "The Journal of Strategic Studies", London, A Frank cass Journal December 1999, Volume 22, Number 4. P 5 and PP 17 – 20.
  3. Edwin O Reischauer, Foreward, in Robert A Scalapino, Ed. "The Foreign Policy of Modern Japan" Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977 P XV.
  4. Robert A Scalapino, ‘Perspectives on Modern Japanese Foreign Policy in "The Foreign Policy of Modern Japan", Ibid, PP 390 – 401.
  5. For details of the intense militanisation in Japan’s security environment, graphical depictions are available in "Defense of Japan: Response to a New Era" published by Japan’s Defense Agency, 1996 Edition, Page 30, Diagram 1 – 5.
  6. Ted Galen Carpenter, "Managing a Great Power Relationship. The United States, China and East Asian Security", in "The Journal of Strategic Studies", London, A Frank Cass Journal, March 1998, Volume 21, Number 1, P 9.
  7. ASIAWEEK, Special Report Security, PP 44 – 45.
  8. Prof. Tomeda Seki, ‘A Japan – Indian Front’, in ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’ May 25, 2000, P 38.
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. See Mahendra Ved ‘Fernandes Tokyo visit will help thaw Japan ties’ in ‘The Times of India, June 5, 2000.
  12. Ibid
  13. See Note 8 above.
  14. Dr. Subhash Kapila, "Japan and India: Imperatives for a Comprehensive Security Dialogue. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, Article No. 326 dated 28 February 2001.
  15. See Note 8 above.