Reimpose weapons export ban

The Noda administration in December 2011 drastically relaxed Japan’s long-standing weapons export ban. On the strength of this step, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on April 10 agreed with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron to push joint development of weapons.

This is the first time that Japan has agreed to develop weapons with a country other than the United States. Japan decided to treat export of weapons-related technology to the U.S. and joint development of missile defense with the U.S. as exceptions to the ban in 1983 and 2004, respectively.

Mr. Noda’s decision this time with Britain is highly regrettable. In view of the possibility that jointly developed weapons will be used in military conflict, it is a betrayal of the principle and spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution, which says that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Mr. Noda and Mr. Cameron did not discuss specific weapons systems for joint development. But it is reported that they mentioned Rolls-Royce engine technology for helicopters during their talks. In their joint statement, the two leaders said they will ensure “strict control” to prevent their arms technology from falling into the hands of a third country and from “extra-purpose use of defense equipment.” But there is no guarantee that Japan can develop a strong mechanism to enforce this prevention. One must not forget the simple fact that if helicopters are equipped with advanced weapons, they become highly lethal offensive equipment.

It is logical to think that Britain wants to export helicopters equipped with an engine jointly developed with Japan. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the helicopters will be equipped with weapons. One wonders whether the Japanese government has given serious thought to a situation in which weapons exports lead to an arms race between two parties, thus increasing tensions and, in a worst case scenario, give rise to a military conflict. If this happens, it means that Japan has given a hand to fomenting military conflict.

Japan’s self-restraint on weapons exports has gained Japan trust from the international community. Easing the arms export ban may make economic sense but will greatly damage Japan’s image, harming greater national interests. The government should retract the ban’s relaxation and stick to the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution.