Expand Exports to Strengthen Industry’s Production Base

It is important to promote exports of defense equipment in order to rebuild the defense industry that supports Japan’s security policy. A mechanism that is appropriate for Japan, a country that has been pursuing its path as a pacifist nation, must be considered.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito have begun discussions to review the conditions for exporting defense equipment. Based on the results of the discussions, the government plans to revise the implementation guidelines for the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology.

For many years, Japan has imposed restrictions on arms exports based on its position that it must not help encourage international conflicts.

In 1967, Japan established the Three Principles on Arms Exports, which prohibited exports to specific regions, such as the communist bloc and countries involved in conflicts. In 1976, the government released a so-called unified view that it would “restrain” from exporting arms beyond the specific regions, effectively imposing a total ban on arms exports.

As a result, a number of companies in the defense industry, members of which could only sell to the Self-Defense Forces, withdrew from the business because they could not expect to earn sufficient profit.

Under the circumstances of a weakening defense production base and the SDF being unable to procure enough weapons and ammunition domestically, it will be difficult for the SDF to maintain the ability to continue operations in the event of a contingency.

China is building up its military; North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and missiles. Japan’s national security environment has changed dramatically from the Cold War era and the days of detente. In the face of growing threats, the government must foster the defense industry and improve the response capabilities of the SDF.

In 2014, the government lifted the ban on exports only in the five areas of rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance and minesweeping under the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, which replaced the Three Principles on Arms Exports. Due in part to a lack of export experience, however, in many cases Japanese defense firms have lost out to overseas companies in the competition for orders.

It is understandable that the conditions for overseas transfers should be reviewed in order to boost defense equipment exports.

The focus of the ruling coalition’s discussions will be whether to allow exports even of lethal weapons. Currently, under the three principles’ implementation guidelines, exports are allowed only in cases such joint development with the United States and other Western nations.

Within the LDP, there are opinions calling for the nation to pave the way toward measures such as the provision of interceptor missiles, with a view to strengthening support for Russia-invaded Ukraine. Komeito argues that this would undermine the philosophy of a pacifist nation.

It is clear that Ukraine is being invaded in violation of international law. The provision of defensive weapons such as missile defense equipment as well as minesweeping equipment is worth considering.

Some countries in Southeast Asia are being confronted by China’s aggressive maritime expansion. It is also important to transfer radar and other equipment to these countries to deepen security cooperation with Japan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 30, 2023)