The government will begin reviewing its arms embargo from late August, with the aim of creating new guidelines effectively abolishing the long-standing policy, an official source said.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes the self-imposed arms embargo, introduced during the Cold War to block shipments of weapons to communist countries, is obsolete and out of sync with the global trend toward sharing technologies and jointly developing weapons, the source said Monday.
Officials from the Foreign, Defense, and industry ministries, as well as the Cabinet Office will start discussing the issue, according to the source.
One option is to allow Japanese companies to take part in joint development of arms only if they promise to abide by the U.N. Charter, which aims to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner.
The Defense Ministry is expected to include the plan to create new guidelines in its midterm report on the new defense program that Tokyo is to compile by year’s end. The report could be released as soon as Friday.
Now in a stronger position after Sunday’s Upper House election, the prime minister apparently intends to focus more on security issues and his long-held goal of revising the Constitution.
Abe also believes it would be wise to set new guidelines regarding the development and trade in arms, rather than making exceptions case by case, the source said.
Abe will likely make a final judgment about the move, which would help nurture the domestic defense industry if the plan goes ahead, after taking into account opinions both at home and abroad.
However, some even within the government remain cautious about reviewing the arms shipment ban, a policy widely supported by the public as part of Japan’s pacifist stance since World War II.
Then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato declared the voluntary arms embargo in the Diet in 1967.
Under the policy, Japan prohibited the export of weapons to communist states, countries subject to arms embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and countries involved in international conflicts.
Though unwritten, the policy has been upheld by every prime minister since Sato.
However, Tokyo made an exception in 2004 when it decided to cooperate with the United States in developing an anti-ballistic missile defense system.
Since Abe took power last December, his government has made an exception to the arms export ban, allowing Japanese companies to jointly produce parts for the U.S. F-35 fighter jet, on the grounds that this does not violate the basic principles of the U.N. Charter.