Japan’s ruling bloc approves new rules on arms exports

Kyodo

The ruling parties approved new guidelines on arms exports Tuesday, setting the stage for the first major overhaul in nearly 50 years of the country’s arms embargo policy.

The Cabinet is expected to approve the guidelines next week, while concerns remain that Japan’s status as a pacifist state will be undermined without proper checks.

The government told a meeting of the ruling bloc’s project team involved in setting the new guidelines that it plans to publish export data in annual reports after being reviewed by the National Security Council, the body launched in December to speed up decision-making on defense and foreign policy.

“We reached a basic agreement on the overall picture (of the rules),” Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Takeshi Iwaya, who leads the project team, told reporters.

Under the envisioned scheme, the defense, foreign and trade ministries will normally conduct screenings. The NSC will decide whether to allow exports when deals are considered important and require caution.

Annual reports on arms exports are expected to include deals approved not just by the NSC but by ministries as well, according to a government official.

Prior to Tuesday’s working-level agreement, New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, repeatedly called for steps to ensure transparency.

Isamu Ueda, head of New Komeito’s panel on diplomacy and defense, accepted the guidelines, saying the process of decision-making and information disclosure is “systematic.”

Under the draft rules, export of weapons to countries involved in conflicts will still be prohibited. The ban will also apply when exports would violate U.N. resolutions.

Arms exports will be allowed only if they serve the purpose of contributing to international cooperation and Japan’s security interests, according to the draft rules.

The government will also seek to ensure that Japanese defense equipment is not transferred to third parties, according to the guidelines.

Japan adopted the so-called “three principles” on arms exports in 1967, banning the transfer of weapons to communist states, countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions and those involved in international conflicts.

Seen as a symbol of Japan’s postwar pacifist stance, the rules became a virtual blanket ban in 1976. In 2011, they were relaxed to allow exports for humanitarian and peaceful purposes, and to make it easier to participate in joint development and production of weapons.