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Essay and Opinion

Rethinking arms export ban

November 4, 2010

Noriho URABE (Adviser , Japan Institute of Constitutional Law)

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is beginning to review the "three principles on arms exports" which have strictly limited Japan's arms exports. The party's panel on foreign policy and national security is reportedly discussing a proposal to be submitted to the government by the end of November. In January this year, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa commented in a meeting of Japan Association of Defense Industry, that "We may now review the basic principle." The then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promptly countered by firmly stating that "the three principles on arms exports are observed." Later in October 10, Kitazawa further clarified his intention in his talks with the US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in Hanoi Vietnam, by disclosing his plan to review the export ban in line with Japan's new defense guideline which is to be compiled within the year 2010. On October 22, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his cabinet approved a draft of a possible response in the Diet which wrote that they should "consider recent changes in the situation, and discuss how to deal with the three principles." It was prepared in response to a prospectus of questionnaire for the Diet session, produced by a member of the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party. That marked a swift change in the government's direction; the DPJ now questions the validity of the arms export ban and seeks its revision.

The three principles on arms exports originate in 1967 when Prime Minister Eisaku Sato stated in a session in the Diet that arms exports were not allowed to: Communist bloc countries; countries subject to arms export embargoes under UN resolutions; and countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts. Tighter conditions were subsequently added to this policy, evolving it into a virtual ban of arms exports. In 1976, Prime Minister Takeo Miki's cabinet announced as its collective view that Japan should refrain from exporting arms to any other areas and that arms production facilities should be dealt as weapons. This policy is obviously grounded on the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution, as .asserted in a resolution of the both Houses of the Diet in 1981 that "fueling international conflicts by arms exports would infringe the idea in the Constitution of Japan that we should be a peaceful nation."

Ironically, the arms export ban soon began to crumble. In 1983, prioritizing the the Japan-US alliance, the cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone explicitly approved technology transfer to the USA for developing and manufacturing weapons. In 2004, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his cabinet resolved that the three principles are not applicable to the US-Japan joint development of the Missile Defense system. The three principles are now crippled by allowing technology transfer to the USA for joint projects of developing and manufacturing weapons. Hasn't the USA almost always been involved in international conflicts? What does the DPJ aim by further revising the three principles? Do they want to allow development and production of weapons jointly with any countries and arms exports to anywhere?

That is exactly what the defense industry and the Defense Ministry have long pursued. Today, most weapons and defense systems are being developed jointly through international programs. Japanese defense industry has been handcuffed by the three principles: Kept out of such international projects, they can not update their technology. In consequence, their production facilities and technology may become obsolete. The three principles ruin the whole defense industry in Japan. Japan's Self-defense Forces have to use either imported or domestically developed costly weapons. Domestically developed weapons are extraordinary expensive, because their export is banned and the only purchaser is the Self-defense Forces. That is the basic reason why Japan's budget for military equipment becomes remarkably large. The three principles have to be drastically revised in order for Japan to improve its defense system at a lower cost. That is the outline of their opinion.

In other words, their assertion is solely grounded on economic and financial reasons; survival and promotion of the defense industry and reduction of the production cost. They do not discuss the basic ideas or philosophies. They refuse to seriously consider our Constitution's idea for peace and the roles of Japan in the international society. They just want to be prosperous. They simply want to develop and sell more and more tools for killing in order to earn more money. Unfortunately, such an immoral proposal can be accepted as one of the practical tactics to ease economic and financial difficulties including unemployment and the national budget deficit. How devastating would it be if the ruling DPJ would choose to amend the three principles on arms exports in a businesslike manner? Can't we expect the ruling party and the cabinet to have any sense, idea and philosophy?