The Abe administration plans to ease Japan’s self-imposed restrictions on weapons exports by not ruling out delivery to nations involved in an international conflict, a major policy shift in the nation’s long-held “three principles” that ban such action, a government source said.
Critics warn the change could undermine Japan’s pacifist stance since World War II and pave the way for Japanese-made weapons and technology to be used in global conflicts.
Under new rules governing arms exports, the administration is not expected to ban exports to countries that are or may be involved in international conflicts, apparently out of consideration for the United States, Japan’s top ally, and Israel, which also has close ties with the U.S., the source said.
The new rules will also stop blocking the transfer of weapons to communist states, as stated in the three principles, because this section was created during the Cold War, the source said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched a review of the arms export control guidelines based on his notion that the lucrative business of exporting weapons would help boost security ties with the nation’s allies.
The three principles on arms exports were adopted in 1967 to block the transfer of weapons to communist states, countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and those involved in international conflicts.
The rules became a virtual blanket ban in 1976, with some exceptions made by past administrations. In 2011, the rules were relaxed to allow exports for humanitarian and peaceful purposes, and to make it easier to participate in joint development and production of weapons.
The administration will try to work out the new guidelines on arms export controls and seek Cabinet approval next month after consultations with the ruling parties, the source said Sunday.
New Komeito, the ruling coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, remains wary of such a move.
A Kyodo News survey of 1,011 people nationwide over the weekend showed that 66.8 percent opposed relaxing arms export controls and 25.7 percent expressed support.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, appearing Sunday in Gifu, said Japan’s security will be reduced if it does not engage in joint development of defense equipment with other nations.
Onodera said Japan can offer its aircraft manufacturing technology to international development efforts. He also told reporters that the administration can allay concerns over efforts to relax the restrictions by emphasizing that Japan will remain a peaceful nation.
The new rules will state that weapons exports will not be allowed in certain cases where it is clear that doing so would hinder efforts to maintain global peace and security, the source said.
The guidelines will also stipulate that Japan will conduct strict screening of arms exports and will only allow the transfer of weapons to a third country or use of weapons for purposes other than originally stated if they can be properly controlled, the source said.
The rules will retain the clause that blocks the transfer of weapons to countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions. Arms exports will also be blocked to countries violating international pacts such as the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Exports to international organizations will be allowed.