Japan: Ready To Sell Arms?
TAIPEI - Tokyo appears poised to ease a 42-year-old ban on arms exports that could boost defense industry cooperation with the United States, including work on the F-35 stealth fighter program to fill Japan's on-hold F-X requirement.
The Policy Research Council of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) released its recommendations for revisions to the ban on June 9.
Exactly how the rules might change remains unclear. Much will depend on upcoming elections scheduled for October; if the pacifist New Komeito Party wins more seats in the Diet, it could slow or stop further remilitarization and a softening of the arms exports ban.
"Japan will probably go for another incremental reduction in restrictions, maybe focused on further cooperation with the U.S. on specific projects," said Chris Hughes, author of the book, "Japan's Remilitarisation."
Any change to the rules might be codified in the National Defense Program Guidelines for 2010-2014, whose final version is expected by year's end.
"I expect the Prime Minister's Advisory Group and the Ministry of Defense National Defense Program Guidelines drafting group are giving this plenty of attention," Hughes said.
The change appears largely motivated not by fears of North Korean aggression, which is cited for much of Japan's remilitarization efforts in recent years, but by the country's business lobby, the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren).
"The Keidanren want to see it go, and Japanese defense production is certainly suffering from stagnant budgets at home and the lack of co-development opportunities beyond the U.S.," said Hughes, who believes lifting the ban might be one way to save Japan's indigenous defense production base.
In the past five years, 35 Japanese companies related to the production of tanks and 20 companies relevant to the manufacture of fighter aircraft have left the defense industry or have gone out of business, said Sumihiko Kawamura, a retired admiral who is deputy director of the Tokyo-based Okazaki Institute.
"Japan's only option is to proceed with joint research and development of state-of-the-art weapons and defense systems with other countries, such as the United States," Kawamura said.
He added that if Japan really wants to save its indigenous arms industry, it will need to think about lifting restrictions on co-development with other countries, "rather than relying on the U.S. and its favored projects, and may even need to think about more exports."
The export ban is part of Japan's 1967 "Three Principles of Arms Exports" policy designed to "avoid aggravating international conflicts." Initially, the ban covered only Communist countries, countries under United Nations arms embargoes, and countries likely to be involved in international conflicts. Then in 1976, it was extended to all countries, in line with Japan's position as a "peace-loving nation."
"In Japan, joint research and development of weapons and defense systems on the cutting edge of military technology are permitted as an exception to the Three Principles, but only for provision of weapons technology to the United States," Kawamura said.
Peter Woolley said the country's defense industry would clearly benefit from any revision in the Three Principles. Japan has created a "well-financed, high-quality and high-cost defense industry," and with the planned revisions, "that industry will have many competitive advantages under rules that allow them to export more," said Woolley, the author of "Geography and Japan's Strategic Choices."
Sources said a new competitor capable of producing highly advanced weapons and systems might eventually challenge Western Europe, Israel, Russia and U.S. defense exporters on the world market.