Japan may soon allow exports of defense equipment to international organizations, such as those involved in U.N. peacekeeping missions, on condition that they do not take sides in conflicts, sources said.
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is reviewing various aspects of its defense policy, including a self-imposed ban on weapons exports.
The proposals are likely to be presented to the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition soon, as Japan hopes to have its new guidelines approved by the Cabinet in March.
Abe believes exporting weapons will help strengthen security ties with allies, as well as rejuvenate the domestic defense industry. One of his main policy objectives is to enable Japan to play a greater security role abroad and make contributions to global peace and security.
The envisaged changes come against this backdrop, and the government considers it likely that Japan will provide defense equipment to organizations linked to U.N. peacekeeping operations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a body now tasked with ridding Syria of its chemical weapons.
Japan adopted three principles on arms exports in 1967: to block the transfer of weapons to communist states, to countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions and to those involved in international conflicts.
The rules became a virtual blanket ban in 1976, with some exceptions made by past governments. In 2011, the rules were eased to allow exports for humanitarian and peaceful purposes, and to make it easier to take part in the joint development and production of weapons.
There have been calls within the government for the rules to be eased further, as Japan cannot provide weapons to international organizations, and prior approval is a prerequisite for the transfer of defense equipment.
The sources said that under the new guidelines, parties can transfer items such as fighter jet engines, which are made by Japanese firm operating on licenses.
While Japan’s restrictive policy on arms exports has been seen by many as a product of the constraints under the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution, and thus ripe for easing, New Komeito has expressed caution about some of Abe’s proposed policy initiatives.