TOKYO — In a significant development, Japan’s ruling parties have reached an agreement on the export of defense equipment that includes lethal weapons. Despite the nation’s strict regulations on the overseas shipment of weapons, lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, Komeito, have determined that non-combat cars and vessels equipped with lethal weapons can be exported.
A joint report compiled by the two parties acknowledges their ongoing differences regarding the export of fighter jets jointly developed with other countries to third nations. However, they have expressed their commitment to resuming discussions in the coming fall to establish revised rules governing such exports.
The decision to allow the export of defense equipment with lethal weaponry comes as the Japanese government shows a willingness to relax its long-standing restrictions. The government aims to support the domestic defense industry and provide assistance to Ukraine amid Russia’s extended invasion by allowing the delivery of weapons.
Under Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution, the nation has traditionally adhered to three principles that prohibit the export of lethal weapons. The exceptions have been items jointly developed or produced with other countries, which are permitted to be transferred among them.
While Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s LDP has been pushing for the easing of rules, Komeito has been more hesitant due to concerns that weapon exports could exacerbate conflicts and contradict Japan’s commitment to postwar pacifism.
It is noteworthy that Japan has recently embarked on a joint development project with Britain and Italy to create a next-generation fighter jet by 2035. Despite Tokyo’s prohibition on weapons exports, the final products resulting from this collaboration are expected to be shipped by the European states to third nations.
According to the joint report, the LDP and Komeito have arrived at a consensus regarding the export of defense equipment with lethal weaponry. The exports will be allowed to countries with which Japan collaborates on security matters, specifically for purposes such as rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance, and minesweeping.
Regarding the export of products resulting from international joint development efforts, the two parties share the view that Japan can directly transfer them to third nations. However, they emphasize the importance of providing a reasonable explanation to the public in order to justify such moves, as stated in the report.
Some lawmakers have also expressed their opinion that the export of weapon components, such as old fighter jet engines, should be permitted as long as the individual parts themselves are not considered lethal.
While Japan’s arms export regulations remain intact, the nation has already supplied defense products to Ukraine, including bulletproof vests and helmets. Notably, Western countries have been providing more advanced military apparatuses like missiles, tanks, and fighter jets to Kyiv.
Striking a Delicate Balance
The agreement reached by Japan’s ruling parties marks a delicate balance between the desire to boost the domestic defense industry and the concerns about exacerbating conflicts. The decision to allow the export of defense equipment with lethal weaponry demonstrates a shift in Japan’s longstanding policies and a recognition of its evolving role in regional security.
As discussions resume in the coming months to establish revised rules, the ruling parties will need to navigate the complex terrain of international collaboration, public sentiment, and the country’s commitment to pacifism. The manner in which Japan manages its defense equipment exports will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for its defense industry, geopolitical relationships, and the broader regional security landscape.