The government has decided to allow the U.S. to export to third countries a jointly developed ballistic missile interceptor, in a politically sensitive move that represents a further easing of Japan’s ban on arms exports, sources said Tuesday.
The two countries will discuss each export of the new Block 2A type of the sea-based Standard Missile-3 interceptor to stay in line with Japan’s export controls, such as excluding countries under U.N. arms sanctions.
But it is uncertain whether Japan in reality can turn down requests by its closest ally.
The decision will be conveyed when the two allies’ defense chiefs meet early next month, and will be confirmed at the two-plus-two security talks involving their defense and foreign ministers later in June, the sources said.
SM-3 interceptors are designed to shoot down intermediate-range ballistic missiles. They are fired from warships equipped with the sophisticated Aegis air defense system.
The U.S. plans to begin deploying the advanced version of the SM-3 system in 2018, mainly for a shield in Europe in response to threats from Iranian missiles, which is why Washington had urged Tokyo to ease the arms embargo.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration has reached a basic agreement to accept the U.S. request, on the condition that Washington and the destination countries pledge in their contracts to ban any transfer to other nations, and that U.N.-sanctioned countries such as North Korea and Iraq are ruled out from the beginning, the sources said.
“It is extremely difficult to reject the request from the United States, with which we are bound in an alliance,” a government source said. “Saying no might result in negative repercussions on future joint development of equipment.”
In addition, Tokyo hopes that by agreeing to allow the exports, it would send a message of deepening the bilateral relationship despite the prolonged stalemate over the controversial relocation of the Futenma military base in Okinawa, the sources said.
But while Japan expects the U.S. to exercise strict control of the weapon system in the case of such exports, some experts said Tokyo’s position will be tested if the planned destination is involved in conflicts, such as Israel, to which Washington is believed to be considering exporting the interceptors.
Allowing exports to a country in conflict would clearly violate Japan’s “three principles” on arms exports.