This weekend, the world will be treated to an unusual sight: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe inspecting a military parade which will be showcasing, among other things, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. This scene will not be taking place in Japan, which has rejected nuclear weapons and whose constitution famously renounces war as a sovereign right, but rather in India’s foggy capital, New Delhi, near an iconic British memorial commemorating the Indians killed in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. The Indian government’s intention in inviting Abe to be chief guest at its Republic Day parade is nothing if not calculated. In fact, it is about as clear a signal that India seeks to facilitate Japan’s emergence as a ‘normal’ military power.
Japan and India may at first glance appear unusual partners. Japan is a nominally pacific, aging and technologically advanced ally of the United States, whereas India is notoriously sceptical of alliances, boasts the world’s second-largest army, has a youthful population, and is still in the process of modernizing its economy. But Abe’s visit marks the next step in a series of overtures between Asia’s two largest democratic economies, beginning with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s 2000 visit to India, and continuing under the stewardships of Junichiro Koizumi, Taro Aso, and Abe. For its part, New Delhi has reciprocated the goodwill under successive governments. In a speech last year in Tokyo, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Japan “a natural and indispensable partner” of India, with which it enjoyed “shared values and shared interests” and “a shared commitment to the ideals of democracy, peace and freedom.”
It is unclear how much attention Washington is paying to this emerging Asian strategic compact, despite its strong security relations with both Tokyo and New Delhi. In fact, scepticism about the United States’ reliability as a defense partner may be contributing to the growing bonhomie between India and Japan. But there are good enough reasons for all three countries to invest further in trilateral security cooperation.