The Abe administration plans to ditch the nation’s long-standing three-point weapons-export ban by writing a new three-point principle governing the export of weapons. The new policy would turn Japan into a weapons-exporting country. A departure from Japan’s traditional security posture characterized by self-restraint, such a move would damage the international trust and reputation Japan has earned through its strict restriction on weapons exports. Ultimately this step will raise regional tensions, thus reducing Japan’s national security.
The new weapons-export policy could also result in Japanese weapons being used in international conflicts, thus making Japan an indirect party to such conflicts. This would be antithetical to the spirit of Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounces the use of forces as a means of settling international disputes and has served as the cornerstone of Japan’s security policy. As such, the Abe administration should maintain the weapons-export ban.
The ban dates back to 1967, when Prime Minister Eisaku Sato declared in the Diet that Japan would prohibit weapons exports to communist countries, nations 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 prohibiting the export of weapons to all countries. But beginning in the 1980s, various administrations approved steps that weakened the ban. Exceptions to the ban have now grown to 21 items and areas.
The new three-point principle envisaged by the Abe administration is: (1) Export of weapons will be prohibited if it hinders preservation of international peace or security; (2) cases in which exports are allowed will be limited and strict screening will be carried out by the National Security Council; and (3) use of weapons for purposes other than designated purposes and transfer of weapons to third parties will be allowed only when appropriate control and management is ensured.
The principle is vague enough to allow latitude as to how it will be implemented. Conspicuously it drops the current ban on weapons exports to countries involved in or feared to be involved in international conflicts. This could lead to serious consequences.
Under the new rules, the Abe administration plans to allow the provision of weapons technologies to the United States, exports of weapons and equipment to countries along sea lanes Japan uses to help them protect these vital shipping routes, exports of weapons and equipment to international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, repairs of weapons and equipment by Japanese makers at overseas bases of the U.S. military, and the participation of Japan in a multilateral parts-sharing system, such as in the production and maintenance of F-35 stealth jet fighters, among other things. The administration is reportedly even contemplating allowing the export of military equipment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Under the new policy, Japan’s weapons exports will expand and it will be difficult for Japan to control their use abroad.
The new policy will also weaken Japan’s diplomatic soft power. The weapons-export ban bolstered Japan’s credibility in the area of arms reduction and disarmament, allowing it to play an important role in persuading other countries to sign the Arms Trade Treaty to regulate trade in warships, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, tanks and small arms. Japan will no longer be able to effectively fulfill this vital role if it becomes an arms exporter.
A Feb. 22-23 Kyodo News polls show that 66.8 percent of the polled oppose the new policy. The opposition parties must stop any attempt to discard the weapons-exports ban, which embodies the spirit of the war-renouncing Article 9.