The Yomiuri Shimbun Of the new guidelines for defense equipment exports adopted by the Cabinet Tuesday, the most distinctive element is provision for the government to permit the transfer of weapons overseas if this is considered to make a contribution to Japan’s security.
As the new guidelines are also expected to promote international cooperation in development and production of defense equipment through exports, it is anticipated that they will be beneficial for the defense industry.
Also, the new guidelines limit cases in which arms exports are permitted and require strict examinations to be conducted before shipments can be made, with information related to the transfers to be disclosed afterward.
Following Cabinet approval, a supportive view on the guidelines prevailed in business circles. “We will give [the guidelines] a warm welcome,” said Hiromasa Yonekura, president of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren).
The value of the nation’s defense industry is estimated to be about ¥2 trillion per year. Due to cuts in government defense spending, however, it is feared that the defense industry may decline. Since 2003, at least 103 companies have either withdrawn from defense-related businesses or have collapsed.
The government will promote defense equipment exports in marine-related areas such as monitoring and surveillance, sea rescue activities, transportation of personnel and supply, and minesweeping activities, while bearing in mind those coastal countries that are along shipping lanes used by Japan to import crude oil.
Regarded as especially promising is the US-2, a search and rescue amphibian aircraft, manufactured by ShinMaywa Industries, Ltd.—based in Hyogo Prefecture—and used by the Maritime Self Defense Force. NEC Corp.’s outdoor, ultracompact microwave communications system, supplied to the Ground Self-Defense Force, is also deemed promising.
Considered quite versatile, the so-called “software-defined” radio communications system made by NEC can be used to communicate with not only MSDF and Air Self-Defense Force but also wireless antidisaster equipment used by local governments, simply by changing the software.
“It uses the world’s most advanced wireless technology,” said a senior official at the company, which is based in Tokyo. If exports of the system increase, a source close to the Defense Ministry said, “The unit cost of production will fall, which is expected to lower the costs for the SDF to purchase the system domestically.”
Permission, with limits
The main feature of the new guidelines is that while Japan will not export weapons to any countries that violate international treaties, such as those subject to resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council, other exports will be permitted only where the government decides that such transfers will contribute to peace, international cooperation and the security of Japan.
The guidelines also specify that if direct-recipient countries of Japan’s defense equipment intend to transfer Japanese weapons and technologies to other countries, the direct-recipient countries must obtain prior consent from Japan.
These guidelines can be said to have formalized cases that have only previously been approved as exceptions.
Because products that can be transferred include not only “weapons” but also technologies and their design, the naming of the guidelines has also been changed from the three principles on “arms exports” to three principals on “defense equipment transfers.”
“[With the new guidelines,] the procedures to conduct transfers of defense equipment and the methods available to check them have been clarified further and become more transparent,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a press conference Tuesday.
With regard to the “cases in which the transfers are considered to contribute to Japan’s security,” a highly political judgment is expected to be necessary.
Whether or not to give the approval for critical defense equipment transfers will be discussed by the National Security Council’s four key members—the prime minister, the chief cabinet secretary, the defense minister and the foreign minister—plus the trade minister. The government will be required to explain to the public in detail why each transfer of defense equipment is needed.
Concessions to New Komeito
In various places through the new guidelines, points that appear to take into account the policy positions of New Komeito—the Liberal Democratic Party’s junior partner in the ruling coalition—can be recognized.
Three meetings of the ruling parties’ project team were held to discuss the government’s draft. At the final meeting, Komeito requested strongly that the basic principles of Japan as a peace-loving nation be stipulated in the guidelines. The LDP accepted Komeito’s request, saying “We will take into consideration Komeito’s position, 120 percent,” thus promising to discuss the issue within the party, in line with Komeito’s wish.
As a result, the document adopted by the Cabinet had additional wording in the draft, saying, “[Japan] will continue adhering steadfastly to its current course as a peace-loving country.”
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the Komeito leader, also asserted, “It is of great significance to have a framework that offers visibility as to whether the government’s decisions on permitting exports are appropriate. It is important to grasp the big picture on export permission.”
In line with such calls, the guidelines also specify that the industry minister will compile and submit a report to the council annually, and that public announcements will be made periodically.
Mindful of a likely review between ruling parties on how the Constitution should be interpreted regarding Japan’s use of the right to collective self-defense, the government has, it seems, intended—as an official close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put it—“to bring talks of national security issues with Komeito to a conclusion smoothly.”