For a while it seemed as if some of the proposals emanating from the DPJ’s committee on foreign policy and security, chaired by Nakagawa Masaharu (中川正春) might go the way of the TPP, and be pushed to the side without a definitive decision being made after intra-party dissent. However, while recognizing the potential risk to Japan’s peace credentials and soft power, the DPJ after debate has concluded that the proposed revisions to the arms export ban should be made (as well as the bolstering of defensive capabilities in the Nansei islands). This will be confirmed in the NDPO to be published later this year, and will be sent on to the cabinet for consideration. As expected Japan will revert back to the original restrictions on arms export, endorsed by the cabinet of Sato Eisaku in 1967, with the additional criteria surrounding what kinds of exports will be tolerated, and to whom. As I discussed here, Japanese exports will be restricted to those for peace-building, humanitarian purposes, and to weapons with low likelihood of causing direct harm. This Asahi article points (ja) to, by way of example, Japan being able to export ships to be used for antipiracy activities.
Perhaps most importantly, Japan will now also be able to participate in international development consortia which will enable Japan’s defense industry (with potential spin-offs accruing to other high-tech industries from this) to stay current with the latest technological developments, and allow the Japanese government to more efficiently procure high-tech capabilities given the institutional and fiscal limitations on the Japanese defense budget. This comes at a time when Japan is also thinking about changing the types of capabilities it requires both for maintaining its territorial integrity, as well as to enable it to make a more significant international contribution in peace-keeping in particular. The intra-party debate also led to confirmation of the need to look at the five peace-keeping principles, the rules on the use of weapons, and to draw up a permanent law for the dispatch of the SDF personnel overseas. However, the specifics are not as well developed as the proposals around the arms export ban, and it is anticipated that there will be much discussion required with various interested parties before a consensus view can be arrived at.
As suggested by the Asahi article above, it is an interesting development not because that such developments are new – they have been considered for some time by various Japanese governments – but because the DPJ Upper House manifesto, in terms of defense policy, contained only a simple reference to the need to divert more of Japan’s defense equipment and infrastructure to civilian uses. Nevertheless, for a government that has struggled to chalk up many policy victories, or solved many policy problems, in the last year and a half, this is not something to be sniffed at. At the very least, someone managed to get the DPJ itself in order and behind a policy, without a public scene being made (not needing to have to engage with their legislative limitations in this particular case also helped greatly to be sure).