In a sweeping change to Japan’s security policy, the Abe administration is set to scrap its expansive ban on arms exports by allowing shipments to countries involved in international conflicts.
Under the administration's draft, Japan would prohibit exports to nations sponsoring terrorism or violating international treaties regarding ammunition.
But experts are concerned that the new rules governing arms exports, presented to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, could allow Japan to export weapons almost without restrictions.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to approve the new rules replacing the existing three principles on arms exports after gaining the backing of the ruling coalition.
But talks within the two parties could run into difficulties since the pacifist-leaning New Komeito remains cautious about lifting the ban.
The draft rules were released after the government stated in the new national security strategy, approved in December, it would map out a new policy to replace the existing ban on weapons exports.
Japan’s self-imposed embargo on weapons exports, known as the three principles on arms exports, was instilled in 1967 under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. The exports are banned to communist bloc countries; countries subject to arms export embargoes under U.N. Security Council resolutions; and countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts.
In 1976, they were expanded to, in principle, a blanket ban under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Takeo Miki.
But the first exception was made in 1983 under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to allow Japan to transfer arms technology to the United States, Japan’s major ally.
Japan now has 21 exceptions to the three principles.
Each time an exception was made, the government released a statement in the name of the chief Cabinet secretary to identify which exports were now approved.
It remains unclear whether the government will do the same under the new rules, sources said.
The draft proposal means that Japan would lift the ban on many destinations as long as they are not sponsoring terrorism or violating international treaties on ammunition.
Shipments to nations involved in international conflicts have already been exempted to pave the way for Japan to export parts that will be used in Lockheed Martin Corp.'s next-generation F-35 stealth fighter jets, which may be sold by the United States to Israel. The administration already exempted such exports in March.
The clause concerning communist countries will be taken out because it was installed during the Cold War era and is no longer relevant.
The new draft regulations oblige Japan not to export arms when it is obvious that they will be used to disrupt international peace and security.
Arms exports will still be conditional and will be approved after rigorous screening by the government.
In addition, Japan can provide other countries with arms if proper management is secured for the use of the weapons for a purpose other than agreed to, and for the transfer to a third country.
The first pillar of the new rules will maintain a ban to destinations that violate international treaties such as the land mine ban treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, in addition to those embargoed under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The second pillar will be approval of Japan’s participation in the development of missiles and fighter jets, which was already allowed as an exception, and the provision of heavy machinery, which Japanese troops use in U.N. peacekeeping missions.
The new rules will also allow Japan to provide arms to the United Nations and other international bodies, as in the case when Japan provided rifle ammunition to South Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan through the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in December.
The Abe administration also plans to allow Japanese companies to undertake repair work for aircraft and other equipment belonging to U.S. military bases outside Japan.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is expected to screen each of the exports to determine whether it will contribute to Japan’s security and ensure that it will not benefit countries sponsoring terrorism.
Then the prime minister, defense minister and seven other Cabinet members will make a final decision at a meeting of the National Security Council.
The third pillar will be to obtain a guarantee from an importing country that it will not use arms from Japan for a purpose other than previously stated or transfer them to a third country.
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