Keep the weapons export ban

A forum on security and defense power for the Abe administration is set to propose a review of Japan’s long-standing weapons export ban when writing a guideline for the nation’s diplomacy and defense policy. It is clear that the forum will call for drastically easing the ban. The ban is an important pillar of Japan’s postwar “defense-only defense” posture, which has helped Japan gain trust from the international community. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is believed to favor abolishing the weapons export ban.

Such a move would damage Japan’s trustworthiness in the international community and raise suspicions about its intentions. It would also greatly increase the possibility that weapons produced wholly or partially by Japan would be used in conflicts abroad, and could lead some countries or groups to regard Japan as an enemy.

Article 9 of the Constitution renounces the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. This primarily applies to Japan’s basic stance in dealing with other countries. Still, a lifting of the weapons export ban violates Article 9′s spirit. Members of the forum have been handpicked by the Abe administration and do not represent the will of most citizens. It is deplorable that Mr. Abe is letting such a body make a decision that will help to undermine one of the basic principles of postwar Japan. At the very least, the Abe administration should fully explain its stance on the ban before the Diet so that it can fully scrutinize the issue.

In 1967, Prime Minister Eisaku Sato set down the weapons exports ban by declaring in the Diet that Japan would prohibit weapon exports to communist countries, countries subjected to arms embargoes under U.N. resolutions and countries involved in or feared to be involved in international conflicts.

In 1976, Prime Minister Takeo Miki strengthened the ban by banning the export of weapons to all countries. Both decisions followed the spirit of Article 9 of the Constitution.

But beginning in the 1980s, various administrations approved policies that weakened the ban. In 1983, the government allowed Japanese companies to provide weapons technology to the United States, and in 2004 it allowed them to take part in the joint development of a missile defense system. In December 2011, the Noda administration decided to permit the joint development and production of defense equipment with other countries if the projects contributed to Japan’s defense.

In March of this year, the Abe administration let Japanese makers take part in the U.S.-led global parts-sharing system for F-35 stealth jet fighter production as an exception to the weapons export ban. In July, it permitted joint research with Britain on protective clothing against chemical and biological weapons. And earlier this month, the government decided to allow Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. to sell engine parts for use by the British Navy, even though Britain is currently involved in the war in Afghanistan.

The Abe administration’s move to gut the weapons export ban goes hand in hand with the “pro-active pacifism” being pushed by Mr. Abe. This approach could lead to Japan’s military involvement in conflicts abroad even if they do not directly relate to its defense, and ultimately it could prove disastrous for Japan. The Abe administration’s undermining of Article 9 must be stopped.