Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has relaxed curbs on arms exports and sees great market potential in Asia. In the Pacific Century, Asia's impressive economic growth is funding expanding defense budgets, making the region the most lucrative global arms market. Alas, it is also a region of significant flash points.
In 1967, Japan adopted three principles that banned the transfer of weapons to communist nations, countries facing U.N. sanctions and those involved in international conflicts. These curbs morphed into a blanket ban on arms exports in 1976, bolstering Japan's pacifist identity. Since the 1980s, however, the government has made numerous exceptions so that Japan could participate in weapons development projects with the United States. This progressive erosion of the ban gained momentum in 2011 when the Democratic Party of Japan approved arms exports for what it termed "humanitarian and peaceful purposes."
There is a dubious logic to justifying arms exports in terms of "humanitarian and peaceful purposes." By this yardstick, the U.S. must be the leading contributor to peace and humanitarian causes since it is by far the world's largest arms exporter, commanding a 75 percent market share. However, the world sees things differently as a recent global survey conducted by Gallup found that the U.S. is considered the greatest threat to world peace by 25 percent of respondents compared to 6 percent naming China.