UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Japan's Policies on the Control of Arms Exports

The Japanese government has renewed arms exports after decades of an absolute ban on the trade of defense equipment and technologies. Japan’s neighbors expect them to move away from the pacifist stance fixed in the country’s post-WWII constitution. On 01 april 2014, after nearly half a century of exemplary pacifist policies, Japan’s conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a modified, more relaxed version of the three basic principles of the nation’s arms exports.

The ‘new’ principles are internationally recognized and mean no weapons exports to countries involved in conflicts and regimes under UN resolutions. PM Shinzo Abe’s government gave assurances that arms exports will be transparent, securely screened by foreign and trade ministries to prevent possible transfer of Japanese equipment to third parties, and will also contribute to international security cooperation efforts in general. Trade will be accompanied by annual reports and full disclosure of information on all deals. In any case, the final decision on whether to allow military exports will always be made by the National Security Council, a body created in December 2013 specifically for speeding up defense and foreign policy actions.

After the decision to facilitate military exports was sanctioned, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told journalists that the move is set to ease Japan’s cooperation on defense technologies with other countries, primarily with the US. “This is beneficial for Japanese companies in that they can take part in joint development and joint production and have access to cutting-edge technology,” Takushoku University Professor Heigo Sato said, adding that so far the Japanese defense industry has been living “in a closed market,” which is clearly “lagging behind in technological development.”

Rethinking the country’s military exports has become a compliment to the already announced revision of Japan’s pacifist-minded constitution by 2020, and the adoption of a pre-emptive strike strategy against potential aggressors. PM Shinzo Abe’s government is striving for fundamental changes in Japan’s military defense policy. The Japanese government’s decision sparked protests from its neighbors. China spoke out against Tokyo boosting military spending and engaging in a military buildup.

Earlier in 2011, Japan eased regulations on the export of equipment for humanitarian and peaceful purposes, hoping to facilitate cooperation in developing and producing weapons for international trade. The Japanese security council agreed 27 November 2011 to relax the long standing ban on arms exports, to allow Japan to take part in joint development and production of arms with other countries and to supply military equipment for humanitarian missions. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at a news conference: "The new standards (on weapons exports) are a result of the government considering measures that required attention amid recent changes to the environment surrounding international defense equipment," referring to rising arms costs that put strains on the government.

He said "The new rules take into account the changing international environment surrounding defense equipment. Upon review of the export of defense equipment overseas, the international co-development and production of defense equipment will allow in missions that contribute to peacemaking, to international cooperation, and to the security of our nation."

Although Japan had the world's sixth largest military budget, it normally paid more than double the prices paid by other states for similar equipment, because local export-restricted manufacturers can only fill small orders at a high cost. Facing a similar problem, Israel's arms industry has long focused on global sales. Japan's export ban dated back to 1967, but the government had long been under pressure from Japanese defense contractors who say the strict policy hampers their competitiveness and access to technology. Development and export of weapons parts by Japanese contractors would help keep costs low.

The Government of Japan had dealt carefully with "arms" exports in accordance with the Three Principles on Arms Exports (hereinafter referred to as "the Three Principles") and their related policy in order to avoid any possible aggravation of international conflicts. Under the Three Principles, "arms" exports to the following countries or regions were not permitted: communist bloc countries, countries subject to "arms" exports embargo under the United Nations Security Council's resolutions, and countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts.

The Three Principles had been the basic policy concerning Japan's "arms" exports since they were declared at the Diet session in 1967. Subsequently, in February 1976, the Government of Japan announced the collateral policy guideline at the Diet session that the "arms" exports to other areas not included in the Three Principles would also be restrained in conformity with Japan's position as a peace-loving nation. In other words, the collateral policy guideline declared that the Government of Japan would not promote "arms" exports, regardless of the destinations.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) controlled Japan's "arms" exports, based on the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law. The exports of "arms" and equipment for arms production listed in the Export Trade Control Order (see Annex) require export licenses to all destinations, since those transactions could be obstructive to the maintenance of international peace and security. In addition, "arms" trades mediated between foreign countries by Japanese agent need METT's permission.

The term "arms" as referred to in the Three Principles is defined as "goods which are listed in Item 1 of Annexed List 1 of the Export Trade Control Order of Japan, and which are to be used by military forces and directly employed in combat." Such "arms" include specially-designed parts and accessories as well as finished products. The question of whether each item falls under such "arms" or not will be judged objectively based on its shape, feature and other technical aspects, and regardless of its end-use. On the other hand, so-called dual-use items do not fall under such "arms."

Based on other relevant laws, the Government of Japan also deals with in a strict manner: direct overseas investment for the purpose of manufacturing "arms" abroad, and participation in the overseas construction projects of military facilities. The export of technologies which are exclusively related to the design, production and use of "arms" ("military technologies") is treated in the same manner as the export of "arms."

However, in order to ensure the effective operation of the Japan-United States security arrangements, the Government of Japan paved the way for the transfer of the military technologies to the United States as an exception to the Three Principles. Such transfer of military technologies to the United States is to be implemented in accordance with the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (the MDA Agreement) and the Exchange of Notes concerning the Transfer of Military Technologies concluded in 1983 under the MDA Agreement (the 1983 Exchange of Notes). The latest changes in 2011 extended the exception to other defense partners, including European nations and Australia.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 02-04-2014 17:43:48 ZULU