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Increased Potential for Industry to Collaborate in Defence Projects

Based on news reports in the past month, it appears that Japan is very close to relaxing a longstanding self-imposed ban on export of defence materiel. It is evident that there is strong political will to ease the ban, pending clarification of definitions and conditions. The new rules will allow Japanese companies to join defence collaborative projects with other countries and supply military equipment for humanitarian missions.

It is certain that there is no political, strategic, or economic argument against relaxation of the export ban. A strong economic rationale in Japan, as elaborated by Corey Wallace of the New Pacific Institute, is “since Japan’s dwindling defence spending was buying ‘less’ security over time in an increasingly dangerous security environment, and spending more on defence would be neither publicly popular or fiscally responsible, relaxing aspects of the arms exports restrictions to allow better value for money in terms of domestic defence procurement and defence industrial base sustainability was a necessary move”.

From a defence and strategy point of view, the growing number of international collaboration projects makes the ban imprudent for the Japanese industry. The problem is worsened by the blurry distinction between defence and civilian technology that has led to a problem of defining exports with a commercial use from those with a strictly military application. There is no doubt a requirement in Japan to completely reconsider its policy and redefine restrictions. The Three Principles on Arms Export:
Japan’s export ban dates back to the Three Principles on Arms Export, under Article 9 of the constitution, that were formulated in 1967 and prevented the transfer of defence goods to:
1) Communist nations;
2) Countries subject to a UN resolution or arms embargo; and 3) Countries involved in armed conflict or in the process of entering armed conflict In 1976, Prime Minister Takeo Miki, emphasizing Japan’s national policy to be a “peace-seeking nation”, further strengthened these restrictions, which resulted in a virtual arms embargo. The Nakasone government enacted a slight modification in 1983, allowing Japan to export defence technology to the US. So over time, Japan’s defence industry has been severely limited by the blanket ban on exports of military hardware – with some exceptions – and on the development and production of weapons with countries other than the United States.

The Three Principles were partly relaxed in December 2011, allowing arms exports to the countries with which Japan had security cooperation. The latest amendment, when introduced, would allow Japan to jointly develop arms with other countries and supply military equipment for humanitarian missions. The Japanese government has called for a definition of “countries involved in conflicts” as such a crucial export control shift requires transparency in deciding the types of equipment allowed for export. Japan reiterated its commitment to arms control treaties and export control conventions, adding that a main destination for exports would be the UN.

Opportunity for Japanese Industries

Relaxation of the export ban would allow Japanese companies to work with international companies on defence projects. A driving factor of this decision has been the case of Japanese collaboration in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme. The current export ban has traditionally kept Japanese defence companies like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd and IHI Corp, from taking part in international weapons development programmes. These companies have gained a reputation for being very capable in the design and manufacturing sector in Japan, yet the ban made it difficult for them to stay abreast of technological development in defence programmes.

In January 2014, Reuters reported that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is in advanced ta

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