The government’s new rule on export and international joint development of weapons that the Abe administration introduced last year by discarding a long-standing arms export ban is having concrete effects. Ahead of the Oct. 1 establishment of the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency as an external bureau of the Defense Ministry, which not only handles development and procurement of weapons but also help with arms exports, Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), the nation’s largest business lobby, proposed that the government push weapons exports as a “national strategy.” Several universities have, meanwhile, applied for research funds provided by the Defense Ministry for development of dual-use technologies, and the ministry decided on funding for four of them as well as for companies and research institutes.

Keidanren’s proposal could pave the way for increasing the portion of weapons production in Japan’s economic output — which currently remains small — estimated at less than 1 percent of industrial production. The universities’ moves could lead to their future dependence on funds from the Defense Ministry and their greater involvement in arms development and production — a move that could potentially undermine the openness of academic research and autonomy of universities. We need to monitor such developments to see if they lead to the creation of closer links among the Defense Ministry, industries and the universities, which exert a powerful influence over the nation’s economic and academic activities.

The new Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency will be the nation’s largest procurement entity, handling about ¥2 trillion a year or about 40 percent of the annual defense budget of nearly ¥5 trillion. It will directly procure equipment and logistics worth some ¥1.6 trillion, while overseeing the rest, which will be locally procured by the three branches of the Self-Defense Forces. Previously, weapons research and development activities were carried out by the Defense Ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute, while procurement was left in the hands of the SDF’s three branches and bureaus of the ministry. The new agency, with 400 SDF members and 1,400 civilian defense officials, will deal with research, development and procurement of weapons in a unified way in an attempt to increase cost-effectiveness in these matters and to push integrated operation of weapons in the SDF’s three branches.

To help implement the rule, the new agency will also play a central role in promoting cooperation with the United States and other countries in the field of joint weapons development and procurement.

The new rule permits the export of weapons by Japan if it helps enhance the nation’s contributions to peace and international cooperation or if it contributes to Japan’s security by way of joint weapons development and production with the U.S. and other security partners, the overall security cooperation with these countries, maintenance of equipment for the SDF and the safety of Japanese abroad. Such conditions for weapons export, however, are so vague and wide in scope that it will be very difficult to the new agency to draw a clear line for allowing or forbidding arms exports. The Diet should at the very least work to ensure transparency on what kind of items are exported in what volume and to which countries.

The rule prohibits selling Japanese weapons to countries that are a party to an international conflict, that is, countries involved in military attacks and have become the target of measures taken by the United Nations Security Council to maintain or restore international peace and security. Still, the definition here of parties to an international conflicts is so narrow that theoretically it is possible for Japan to allow firms to ship arms to Israel and some Mideast countries in a state of military tension with their neighbors or nonstate armed groups. Israel is already a party to the international parts-sharing scheme for the production of F-35 jet fighters in which Japanese firms will take part.

In July 2014, the government approved the export of a component used in the PAC2 Patriot missiles to the United States. The U.S. had decided a few days earlier to sell PAC2 missiles, which will incorporate the component, to Qatar. According to the new rule, countries that purchase Japanese weapons, in principle, must get Tokyo’s prior consent if they transfer the arms to third-party nations or use them for purposes not originally specified. The example of the U.S. sale of PAC2 missiles to Qatar shows that this provision is shaky.

Keidanren’s proposal, made about two weeks before the establishment of the new agency, apparently reflects its view that weapons export will offer Japanese manufacturers new business opportunities. Hoping to realize an “appropriate level of profit,” it calls on the government to work out a scheme, including gathering necessary information, that will contribute to arms exports. Such moves, however, could lead to development of collusive relations between businesses and the government that rely on international conflicts or tensions as a source of business.

According to a survey by Kyodo News, 16 universities applied for research funds from the Defense Ministry for the development of dual-use technologies. The ministry has picked nine institutions to which it will provide up to ¥30 million a year each. Four of them are universities — Tokyo University of Technology, Toyohashi University of Technology, Tokyo Denki University and Kanagawa Institute of Technology — three are public-sector research institutes and two are businesses. Although the results of each research project will be opened to the public in principle, they could become classified information under the state secrets law if they are related to the development of weapons and military technology. The possibility cannot be ruled out that university researchers will be involved in secret military research projects in the future.

In view of the history of universities cooperating with the military during Japan’s past wars, the Science Council of Japan issued declarations in 1950 and 1967 that scientists will not engage in research projects to achieve military purposes. Dual-use technologies may fall in a gray area, but scientists should keep in mind that when the Defense Ministry offers research funds, it is thinking of eventually utilizing the results in military applications.