Narendra Modi will be on a three-day visit to Hiroshima for the G7 leaders’ summit beginning Friday, making him the first Indian prime minister in over six decades to visit the Japanese city targeted by a nuclear weapon alongside Nagasaki during the World War II in 1945.
The last Indian leader to have visited the city was India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1957.
With nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation listed among the issues to be addressed at the summit alongside Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, creation of resilient supply chains, and ensuring energy security, Mr Modi’s presence is significant because India is among the few countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The international treaty, meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and arms technologies, opened for signature in 1968 and came into force in 1970. Among the 189 signatories were five nuclear-weapon states – China, France, Russia, UK, and the US – who are also permanent members of the UN Security Council.
India, however, refused to sign the treaty, calling it discriminatory as it defined nuclear-weapons states as those that tested nuclear devices before 1967. Since then, India has conducted two nuclear tests – in 1974 and 1998.
But while it was an issue of contention between India and Japan for a long time, experts believe, that it is unlikely to be a topic of discussion at the G7 meet despite Hiroshima being chosen as “a symbolically powerful choice as the venue for the summit”.
This, in parts, has been attributed to the evolution of relationship between the two countries due to “strategic convergence”.
“They are both resident Indo-pacific power that wants to see stability and peace in the region,” explained Harsh V Pant, a professor of international relations with King’s India Institute at King’s College London and vice president of studies and foreign policy at the New Delhi-based thinktank, Observer Research Foundation. “They are wary of Chinese intentions.”
India, which shares its borders with hostile neighbours Pakistan and China, perceived nuclear weapons through the lens of its strategic requirements, said Professor Pant.
The South Asian nation, which saw border clashes in December last year with China, also entered into a war with it in 1962. It also fought four wars with Pakistan in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999.
With China and Pakistan becoming nuclear powers in 1964 and 1976 respectively, “India faces a significant challenge in the nuclear realm,” Mr Pant said.
“And for Japan, it was a big issue because [it is] the only country that had experienced the weapon used on its soil,” he said.
The significance of Hiroshima being used as a venue for the G7 summit “becomes much greater because of what is going on in Europe between Ukraine and Russia”, said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.
“There has always been a fear expressed that Russia could at some point in time, if it suffers massive losses, resort to threatening the use of nuclear weapons.”
But the strategic ties and realities evolved for Japan as the US and India signed the Civil Nuclear Cooperation deal in 2008.
The deal allowed for a peaceful nuclear cooperation between “American and Indian companies to partner together in ways that will foster growth in India’s civil nuclear sector, create a clean energy source which will benefit the environment, and will offer India greater energy security with stable sources of energy for its large and growing economy”, according to US Department of State.
As a part of the deal, India agreed to “expand international safeguards, adhere to international nuclear and missile export guidelines, continue its voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing, and ensure that all civil nuclear trade will be used only for peaceful purposes”.
“Because India will place a greater number of its reactors under safeguards, it reduces the nuclear infrastructure available for its weapons programme. These commitments constitute significant gains for global nonproliferation efforts,” said a State Department statement.
“That India has been a fairly responsible nuclear power – it hasn’t shared nuclear secrets, for example – helps its cause as well,” explained Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.
“Certainly, India does run into problems as a non-NPT state – in particular, this has contributed to its inability to gain membership in prestigious nuclear clubs, like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. But it’s not going to face a lot of heat on the whole.”