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Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011
Government goes ahead with easing arms export ban
By MASAMI ITO
The government officially decided Tuesday to relax the nation's de facto ban on exporting arms, marking a turning point for Japan's defense policy.
This is the first time the government has drastically eased the "three principles" on banning arms exports since they were first introduced in 1967. The principles target communist nations, countries subject to an embargo under U.N. resolutions and states involved in international conflicts.
Under the new rule, Japan will be able to export weapons to other nations only if they are to be used for peace-building and humanitarian assistance. Japanese companies will also be allowed to participate in the international joint development of military technology.
In announcing the decision, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura stressed however that the fundamental idea of the three principles will not change and that exports will be strictly managed to ensure the arms don't get into the hands of terrorist groups or into strife-torn countries.
"The three principles of the arms embargo, based on Japan's fundamental position as a pacifist nation, are rules to avoid encouraging international conflict and we will continue to be cautious about exports," Fujimura said.
An official in the Cabinet Secretariat explained that while in principle the new rule will enable exports of guns and other weapons, the government doesn't consider this likely because the aim itself is to assist in peace-building and disaster relief. Rather, Japan will now be able to provide patrol boats, bullet-proof vests and heavy machinery that are used by Self-Defense Forces abroad.
To prevent this equipment from being used for other purposes or rerouted to third countries, Japan will establish a framework with related countries to demand prior consent, Fujimura said.
While the new policy is likely to trigger strong criticism and concern that it infringes on the war-renouncing Constitution, security experts said it is about time that Japan relaxed its arms embargo as the domestic defense industry continues to weaken.
The current international trend is to jointly develop and produce costly weaponry, but Japan has been left out because of the three principles. But now Japan will be able to advance its defense technology not just with the U.S. but also with other "friendly nations," including Australia and NATO member states, all the while cutting costs through less reliance on expensive imported equipment.
"It is almost too late . . . Japan needs to strengthen its domestic defense industry," said Takashi Kawakami, a professor of security issues at Takushoku University. "Without a strong defense industry, Japan would have to continue to buy expensive equipment from the United States."
According to Kawakami, Japan ultimately needs to strengthen its own defense because its primary ally, the U.S., continues to cut its military budget.
"There is underlying concern as to just how much Japan will be able to rely on the U.S. for defense amid its continuous military spending cuts and now was the time (for the government) to take the helm," Kawakami said.
Discussions over the relaxation of arms exports were started last year by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan-led government when it was revising defense policy for the next 10 years.
However, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan gave up easing the ban after strong opposition from the Social Democratic Party, whose support was necessary to pass bills through the divided Diet.