Defense Equipment Transfer: Revision of 3 Principles Will Help Support Ukraine

It is highly significant for Japan to help maintain the international order by expanding its exports of defense equipment. The transfer of defense equipment should proceed in a manner that does not contradict the principles of this peace-loving nation.

The government has revised the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, which stipulate the conditions for arms exports, including contribution to peace and international cooperation, as well as guidelines for their implementation. The conditions were relaxed in line with recommendations from the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito.

The main pillar of the revisions is a total lifting of the ban on exports of licensed products — currently manufactured by Japanese companies that pay patent-related fees to foreign companies — to licensor countries. Previously, the export of parts to the United States was possible, but now, finished products, too, can be exported.

Western nations that provide military assistance to Ukraine — which continues to suffer from Russian aggression — are facing a serious shortage of ammunition in their own countries. The United States has requested Japan to provide Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles, which are among the licensed products.

Based on the revision of the three principles, the Japanese government has decided to export PAC-3 missiles to the United States.

Complementing Washington’s supply capacity will deepen the alliance between Japan and the United States. The timely move also will indirectly help support Ukraine.

PAC-3 missiles were originally designed to intercept projectiles from North Korea. The equipment is solely for defense purpose, and as such, will not exacerbate conflict.

The second main item of the revision is allowing the export of nonlethal defense equipment — including radar and transport aircraft — to countries suffering from outside aggression. Under the previous regulations, the export of nonlethal equipment was limited to countries with which Japan had a cooperative security relationship.

If Japan does not extend help to countries that are suffering aggression, it will be unable to seek assistance from other nations when it encounters difficult situations. It is vital to allow the export of a wide range of defense equipment and publicly demonstrate a stance against changes of the status quo by force.

The government had planned to lift the ban on exports to third-party countries of defense equipment developed jointly with other countries. The government had in mind the export of next-generation fighter jets to be developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom and Italy. However, it deferred its decision due to opposition from Komeito.

The United Kingdom and Italy assume that the jointly developed fighter jets will be exported to countries other than the three countries. The aim is to curb costs through mass production while securing sufficient profits.

In recent years, it has become the norm for expensive defense equipment to be developed on a joint basis. If Japan imposes restrictions on exports, doing so could make it difficult for Tokyo to participate in various projects.

Japan’s long-standing restrictions on arms exports have weakened the nation’s defense industry as deliveries have been limited to the Self-Defense Forces. Sales channels must be expanded overseas to help foster an industry that underpins Japan’s security.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2023)