New Delhi: India and Japan are politico-economic partners. Like everything else on earth, this too has its limits. What these two countries definitely do not share is an alliance. Their ties will never acquire the width and depth of an alliance. Alliances are nearly impossible to construct in the post-colonial and nuclear and missile age, and more so since the end of the Cold War. Those in the Narendra Modi government and among the strategic community who speak of an Indo-Japanese alliance advertise their appalling ignorance of the subject.

Alliances usually demand a very powerful and implacable third party enemy to justify their coming into being. This condition was met to a degree with NATO and its Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union. But anyone who is even fleetingly acquainted with the historical evolution of NATO will tell you that its member states differed on more issues than they reached a consensus.

To encapsulate the troubles of NATO: France, firstly, would not accept the overlordship of the United States in the alliance. Although facing a strategic dead-end, France has always considered itself a Great Power. It has never entirely been able to abandon its Napoleonic delusions. Ditched by the US in the Suez Crisis, France tried to make common cause with West Germany, while equally humiliated Great Britain, licking its wounds, gravitated towards America. It produced a further break between Great Britain and continental Europe that was never bridged.

In revenge of the Suez embarrassment, European NATO states have strictly adhered to the concept of “out-of-area” operations. NATO Europe did not support the United States in Vietnam. Its participation in Afghanistan and the US’s Middle Eastern wars have been in proportion to the singular interests of European member states. France’s continued estrangement from NATO has considerably weakened the alliance.

At the height of the Cold War, there was also the key issue of nuclear weapons which roiled the alliance. That portion of history is being repeated with North Korea, South Korea and Japan. Once the United States and the Soviet Union became rival nuclear powers, NATO Europe never again felt reassured by the American nuclear umbrella.

It all boiled down to a simple but significant question: Would the US retaliate and invite apocalypse for a Soviet nuclear attack on NATO Europe? The truthful answer was no. In consequence of this, Britain and France acquired their own deterrents, but this was negligible compared to the scale of nuclear terror emanating from Soviet Russia.

It is not that the United States failed to assuage Europe’s fears; indeed, it attempted with the deployment of US troops and intermediate nuclear forces to increase its own risks. But NATO Europe was never fully satisfied. It was left with the terrifying certainty that Western Europe would become a nuclear battlefield between the two superpowers with each side withdrawing before Armageddon.

NATO had the very best substrata of a common adversary, common heritage, and, what is more, a largely comparable and compatible ethnicity to succeed. And yet, NATO, for the most part composed of Western liberal democracies, and possessed of like levels of social, economic and industrial development, barely survived. In the reign of Donald Trump, NATO totters. While Trump scorns NATO, Europe is unable and unwilling to endorse Trump’s worldview and his romance of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

If NATO, a most natural alliance in many ways, hasn’t succeeded, what chance does a potential Indo-Japanese alliance have? Japan is a spent power, exhausted beyond any hopes of strategic revival. In the post-colonial age in which we are located, only states with vast national territories and commensurable populations can aspire to be Great Powers. Japan possesses neither.

Even if Japan were to acquire nuclear weapons (which it won’t), it has no redeemable strategic depth. Having suffered two nuclear attacks and over two hundred thousand deaths, it will not take up North Korea’s nuclear challenge. While no longer trusting to the US nuclear umbrella, Japan’s default position would be to do nothing and to hope that the crisis blows over, which it will if the US acts sensibly.

And in the outre case that Japan tilts towards early twentieth century militarism, it will ring alarm bells in the region that drown out North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling. Countries in the region, and especially China and the two Koreas, cannot forget or forgive the cruel and eviscerating Japanese occupation from the time of the Meiji rise.

While a Great Power’s fall to luckless mediocrity such as that of Japan is worthy of study by itself, India occupies a separate but scarcely attractive category. India has never been a Great Power and is unlikely to be one in the foreseeable future. India is a post-colonial state in form and substance. Its governing structures and institutions are colonial which choke indigenous talent and sap geopolitical vision. The present government embodies the very worst of colonial authoritarianism. Even if India and Japan visualize China as a common adversary, the complete absence of power congruence between the two countries makes any alliance farfetched and doomed to failure. The French alliance with the Central European states in the interwar years to forestall German expansion provides a fitting analogy. That too failed.

In NATO’s case, even shared ethnicity proved less of glue. This is one area where India and Japan are vastly disjointed and separated. Japan is a closed society and not very welcoming to outsiders. Japanese society will not make an enduring exception to Indians when they did not do so to the occupying Americans and subsequent partners. There is also a great geographical distance which separates them without the mediation of close knitting factors that once brought Great Britain and Imperial Japan together to maintain the European and Asian balance.

With the spread of nuclear weapons and expansion on land becoming more contested than ever before in history, the world is lurching from crisis to crisis with no stable order in sight. Rise and preservation of Great Power status have also become indubitably more challenging because expansionistic and hegemonic failures have outnumbered successes.

Alliances demand more and more compatibilities and still suffer inevitable extinction. A partnership with Japan is worth the exertion without adorning it with the kiss of death of alliance.