Japan Must Balance Peace Contribution, Defense Industry Development

As the security environment continues to deteriorate, international cooperation in the development and export of defense equipment is becoming increasingly important. Japan should explore ways to export defense equipment to the maximum extent possible while adhering to the principle of being a pacifist nation.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito have been thrashing out ways to review the rules required for exporting defense equipment. The government intends to revise the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology once the ruling parties have further consolidated their opinions.

Against the background of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ruling parties are calling for the revised principles to underline support for countries facing “invasion in violation of international law” and “threats by force.”

In the Implementation Guidelines for the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, the government currently limits equipment exports to five main categories: rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance and minesweeping. Last year, the government revised the guidelines to allow the export of bulletproof vests and other equipment to Ukraine as an exceptional case.

It is appropriate for Japan to specify support for countries under invasion to demonstrate its stance against attempts to unilaterally change the status quo.

The ruling parties further believe that equipment jointly developed with other countries should be exportable to third countries — a process that is not currently permitted. In this regard, the parties have in mind the export of next-generation fighter jets jointly being developed by Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy.

Both the United Kingdom and Italy are eager to export the planes to third countries. The aim is to reduce development and production costs by mass-producing the aircraft.

If Japan does not allow such exports to third countries, it may not be possible to generate sufficient profits to cover the necessary technologies. Additionally, Japan will be unable to jointly develop defense equipment due to the many restrictions.

It would be realistic to allow exports of defense equipment to third countries on the condition that it is used exclusively for defense purposes.

There were some issues on which the LDP and Komeito were unable to reach agreement. The LDP called for the elimination of the five defense-equipment export categories, arguing that the scope of exportable equipment should be greatly expanded. Komeito, for its part, wants only to add such domains as landmine clearance to the five categories.

In 1967, the government established the Three Principles on Arms Exports, which prohibited exports to the then communist bloc and countries involved in conflicts, but allowed exports to other regions. In 1976, however, the government adopted a unified view of embargoing all exports and the strict ban has remained in place ever since.

In 2014, the principles were renamed the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, but the Ukraine crisis and other issues have prompted a fresh review from an international perspective.

It is important to have detailed discussions on how to balance peace contributions and defense industry developments. Gaining public understanding regarding the expansion of exports is crucial, too.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2023)