Weapons and Words

I can squeeze in a short post today I feel. A DPJ investigative panel looking at diplomacy and security is apparently (en) looking at restoring old military terms for the SDF:

A foreign and security policy panel of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has drafted a proposal calling for restoring old military terms for the Self-Defense Forces, sources close to the matter said Wednesday. These Japanese-language terms had been used for the imperial Japanese forces before the end of World War II and have been carefully avoided for the SDF in line with the war-renouncing Constitution……The draft proposal also seeks to have the emperor attest the appointment of the Ground, Air and Maritime SDF chiefs of staff and the joint staff head and meet with SDF troops sent on overseas peacekeeping missions more frequently.

A search (ja) reveals that the SDF will not be renamed a conventional military as such, in line with the constitution which bars Japan from developing war potential. Rather it seems that the change in language will be for internal use. For the most part the English usage will not change that much – rather the SDF is bringing its terminology in line with how foreign military/security forces are referred to in Japanese itself. For example:

陸自の普通科(post WWII term for GSDF infantry in Japan) will become「歩兵」which is the similar word used to refer to the infantry of overseas forces, Colonel -1佐 will become 大佐、Lieutenant Colonel -2佐 will become 中佐, and so on. At the higher levels, 将官 (general) will become 大将, 中将 etc. 、統合幕僚監部 (Joint Staff Office) will become the conventional 統合参謀本部 (Joint Chiefs of Staff). 運用 (Operations) will become 作戦 (tactics, strategy), and the SDF police  警務官will become the 憲兵 (military police – yes, bringing back the infamous kempeitai).

Some have been expecting for a while that the SDF might start to normalize its terminology use, and some have expected that eventually the SDF will be renamed a conventional military force (軍隊), although some have suggested that such a designation might be unconstitutional, although that would be a matter of interpretation in which the Cabinet Legislative Bureau would surely be involved. Overall the new terms above have a much more commanding nuance to them, rather than the more civilian nuance that the original terms indicated.

Also it seems that the same panel is considering (ja) making a change to the Arms Export Ban that Japan currently has in place. With a couple of exceptions the current ban was a blanket ban on all weapons systems and technologies to all countries. There is a suggestion of revoking the blanket ban implemented by the Miki Cabinet in 1976 and reverting back to something more in line with the Sato Eisaku restrictions implemented in 1967. The Sato “ban” restricted Japan from exporting to countries in the Communist Bloc, to countries currently under a UN authorized arms embargo, and countries currently tied up in a military conflict. It seems that the [proposed re-revised] principles will also provide criteria that arms exports should be [limited to] those that may be helpful for peacekeeping and humanitarian purposes, and those that have a low likelihood for inflicting death and harm (perhaps taking the two together then the focus will be on military infrastructure, high-tech weaponry such as BMD and fighter jets not used against civilian populations, rather than shooting weapons as such). The criteria will allow Japan  to participate in the joint development and manufacture of arms with NATO countries, countries like South Korea and Australia that have a strong commitment to restricting arms proliferation including weapons of mass destruction, and those countries who have systems in place that prevent the unauthorized transfer of weapons and weapons technology to third parties. The main motivation it seems in lifting the restrictions on arms export is to allow Japanese companies to participate in international fighter development consortia, as well as allow for the SM-3 and other components of BMD be exported should that be desired. It will be interesting to see how this develops over time – will India, who Japan has been developing a stronger administrative level military partnership with – and with whom Japan has also signed a nuclear energy deal – be restricted due to suspicion over its commitment to its control of weapons, mass destructive or otherwise? How about countries like Vietnam? Clearly a “communist” country by definition, but how will this definition be applied? At some point I am sure a list of countries on the good and bad list will be produced, but even that over time can evolve.

NB: The Keidanren who have been very much involved in lobbying the government to relax the export ban also identified as a benefit the cost savings from being able to jointly develop and manufacture defense equipment. This is important because a) Japan has a 1% of GDP defense spending cap, a b) relative defense spending has been falling at a time when security threats appear to be increasing. Domestic procurement has become quite a costly exercise, and furthermore with Japan’s defense industry potentially falling behind due to the increasing technical sophistication of other countries’ weapons systems then the state of the industry itself was seen to be a security concern, especially if the regional or global threat environment changed and thus required Japan to adapt militarily in some way or form.

Update: Japan has indeed since subsequently relaxed the restrictions on arms’ exports. Please see here for detailed background, and here for translation of, and commentary on, the document.


11 thoughts on “Weapons and Words

    • Janne, ha, yes, I guess export to the US goes without saying – the US already had an exception under the previous blanket ban, and in another Japanese article I remember seeing it suggested the relaxation of the ban could be a valuable way to strengthen the US-Japan partnership. I guess some would argue that given the key importance of the alliance to Japan’s security then anything that undermined that is by definition bad for Japan’s security. I cannot discount that there might be some other legal gymnastics to be performed or required that I have no idea about.

  1. They say some Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi which have cosy relationship with the government have been exporting arms as “parts”.
    I even suspect that the nuclear facility in North Korea was built with the technology of Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Hitachi.

    • Without a doubt Mitsubishi is one of the companies most interested in this change. I think what you say is one of those open secrets – for a long time “parts” that were considered dual use, however marginal, were considered exceptions to the ban. Generally as long as there was a civilian use and the “part” was not part of a finished weapon system then the government didn’t bend over backwards to exclude them. In fact if you look at the Japanese link in my previous entry it basically says that lawmakers studied the matter and with the exceptions etc couldn’t really find much of a logical justification for maintaining the current ban as really it only served to restrain Japan joining in consortia like the Joint Strike Fighter consortium and consortia relating to BMD.

  2. Agree with Andante. From what MOD people seem to be saying, and from what the recent PM’s report suggested, the relaxation of the Arms Export ‘restraints’ (Miki never used the words ‘ban’ or (I think) ‘prohibition’ when it came to the extension of the principles and they were softened to allow exports to the US in 1983 anyway) is a hedge against U.S. intransigence when it comes to the provision a new strike fighter. The JSF has therefore become all the more important to MOD people who are overseeing the drafting of the NDPO. I wonder what this says about the degree to which the DPJ is more concentrated on defense, though. From what I hear, outside the defence ministry it is largely younger, less powerful, members who are taking part in drafting the document. Is the NDPO really that important? The one in 1995 was virtually ignored two years later when the new guidelines established Japan’s real defence priorities.

    • Bryce, interesting insight. One wonders if this younger group is also a self-selected group – the older members of the DPJ as opposed to the older members of some parts of the LDP seem much less interested in defense and likely ideologically hostile to military strengthening (with Sengoku describing the SDF as an “instrument of violence” in the Diet yesterday).

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