Japan Ruling Parties to Discuss Overseas Defense Equipment Transfers in May

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Defense Ministry buildings in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito have each begun coordinating views on a review of guidelines for the overseas transfer of defense equipment ahead of discussions likely to be held in May, officials of the government and the ruling coalition parties said.

The guidelines govern the application of the “Three Principles on the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology” that stipulate the conditions for overseas transfers.

The focus will be on how much the range of defense equipment applicable for transfer overseas would be expanded, all while the United States and European countries increase military support for Ukraine against Russia’s continued aggression.

Under the current guidelines, the type of defense equipment that is transferrable to countries with which Japan has a cooperative security relationship is limited to five areas: rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance and minesweeping.

In regard to providing defense equipment to Ukraine, the current guidelines stipulate that it be carried out based on paragraph (3) of Article 116 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, which allows the government to transfer disused items to developing regions. But it does not permit the transfer of arms or ammunition.

In the National Security Strategy revised at the end of last year, it was made clear that the current system, including the guidelines for applying the three principles, would be subject to review.

“The transfer of defense equipment is an important political means for extending assistance and so forth to a country under invasion,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference on Friday. “The review of the system is a task the government must work out to its conclusion.”

The United States has announced it will provide Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks, regarded as the world’s most powerful battle tank, while Germany has also pledged an advanced tank, its Leopard 2. Japan’s provisions, however, have been limited to such items as bullet-proof vests and helmets.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during their summit in Kyiv on Tuesday that Japan will provide $30 million worth of defense equipment via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) fund. But this also is premised on not including lethal weapons.

Discussions among the ruling parties is expected to begin in earnest in May following the unified local elections in April. The prevailing view within the LDP is in favor of including lethal weapons, but a more cautious view runs strong within Komeito, making it likely that the parties might find it difficult to get on the same page.