Japanese Pols Decline To Overturn Arms Export Ban
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Despite efforts by industrialists, politicians and military officials to overturn the ban on exporting arms, political opponents in Tokyo appear to have stopped such a change for now.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan confirmed Oct. 12 there were no plans to end the decades-long ban on arms exports. The government is preparing the first major update of its defense policy since 2004, and there were hopes a lifting of the ban would go forward.
Recommendations for a wide range of defense policy reform were issued in an August report, “Japan’s Vision for Future Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era,” submitted by a government advisory panel to the prime minister’s office.
The report says, “Defense equipment cooperation or defense assistance could be effective tools for improving the security environment and international relations, defense cooperation and assistance should be carried out on the basis of a new set of principles, superseding the de facto export prohibition policy under the ‘Three Principles on Arms Export.’”
The report also says change is needed to save Japanese defense enterprises from being left behind in international technology innovation.
“The Japanese Government should allow these enterprises to participate in international joint development and/or production projects. With a careful design to contribute to international peace and improvement of Japan’s security environment, it should revise current arms export prohibition policy,” the report says.
One Japanese government official said discussions have yet to start on how to implement the report’s recommendation.
“If it will come to fruition remains to be seen. As the export control has been a policy for long time, any change of the current policy would invite a heated debate,” he said.
Kan said Japan would continue honoring the 1967 “three principles” banning arms exports and the co-development of arms with third countries, such as the U.S. The 1967 ban has hobbled the indigenous defense industry and resulted in higher costs for locally produced arms. Industry had its hopes raised Oct. 11, when Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the ban should be overturned. The two were in Hanoi for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers Meeting.
“Japan has denied itself the benefits of international weapons development collaboration, essentially since the time it had any defense industry worth collaborating with,” said a U.S. defense industry analyst in Tokyo.
“Originally, the notion was to enhance Japan’s national security by not embroiling it in foreign conflicts, but the resulting isolation of the Japanese defense industry, increasingly expensive and not competitive, only led to decreased national security. The current situation is unsustainable. It is simply too expensive, too inefficient,” he said.
Despite the setback, there is increasingly more “consensus for this move among industry and officials in foreign affairs, trade and defense than I have seen in many decades,” said Michael Green, a Japan specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Green said overturning the export ban “makes sense, since the defense industry is increasingly globalized and Japan’s own ability to move into future opportunities for joint development of subsystems for missile defense or fighters will be critical to keep industry afloat.” Despite the pressure to implement a policy change, exporting weapons in the near term is unlikely. The first step would be “contributing subsystems to programs used in the U.S. or Europe,” Green said.
No progress is foreseen in the current political environment in the Diet, or Japanese legislature. The Democratic Party of Japan still has a minority position in the upper house of the Diet and is “unlikely to take this on directly before they know who might be their coalition partners,” Green said.