Japan may lift embargo on arms exports

Kyodo News

Posted at Feb 11 2014 06:37 PM | Updated as of Feb 12 2014 02:37 AM

TOKYO - Japan may allow exports of defense equipment to international organizations on condition they do not take sides in conflicts, as part of its broad review of the restrictive policy on weapons, sources close to the matter said Monday.

The government is also mulling some exceptions so countries do not have to gain prior approval from Japan when they intend to transfer defense equipment from the country to a third party, according to the sources.

The proposals on arms exports will likely be presented to the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party soon, as Japan hopes to have its new guidelines approved by the Cabinet in March.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes that exports of weapons will help strengthen security ties with allies, as well as rejuvenate the domestic defense industry. One of his main policy objectives is to enable Japan to play a greater security role abroad and make contributions to global peace and security.

The envisaged changes come against such a backdrop, and the government sees it likely that Japan will provide defense equipment to international organizations such as those linked to U.N. peacekeeping operations, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a body now tasked with ridding Syria of chemical weapons, the sources said.

Japan adopted "three principles" on arms exports in 1967 to block the transfer of weapons to communist states, countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and those involved in international conflicts.

The rules became a virtual blanket ban in 1976, with some exceptions made by past governments. In 2011, Japan eased the rules to allow exports for humanitarian and peaceful purposes, and make it easier to take part in joint development and production of weapons.

There have been calls within the government for the rules to be eased further, as Japan cannot provide weapons to international organizations, and prior approval is a prerequisite for the transfer of defense equipment to a third party.

Under the new guidelines, parties can transfer items such as fighter jet engines, which are manufactured by Japanese companies on licenses from foreign companies, according to the sources. Licensed products manufactured in Japan also include missile launches and bullets.

Japan's restrictive policy on arms exports has been symbolic of the postwar period in Japan, bounded by the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution. The New Komeito party is cautious about some of Abe's policy agendas.