Japan keeps chipping away at its post-war pacifism

opinion April 04, 2014 00:00

By Joshua Keating

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The headline "Japan ends half-century ban on weapons exports" could prompt a bit of deja vu in newspaper readers. Nearly identical headlines have been appearing in the media at various points for years. What happened on Tuesday seems to be less that Japan

Japan first adopted its “three principles” on arms exports in 1967, which prohibited it from selling weapons to communist bloc countries, countries subject to UN arms embargoes, or countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts.
In 1976, the three principles were expanded into an effective ban on all arms exports. But over the years, a number of exceptions to the rules have been allowed. 
Japan has a number of joint development projects with the United States, and has allowed the US to sell missile interceptors it developed to European countries. In 2011, it relaxed the rules further to allow exports for “humanitarian and peaceful purposes” such as anti-piracy operations or peacekeeping missions.
The new policies will still prohibit exports to countries involved in conflicts or under US sanctions. 
According to Reuters, “under the new regime, Japan is to focus mainly on non-lethal defence gear such as patrol ships and mine detectors and says it has no plan to export such weapons as tanks and fighter jets”.
Essentially, it seems like Japan is returning to the original 1967 “three principles” amid growing tension with China and concerns about North Korea.
Japan’s shift away from its pacifist credo didn’t begin with current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (who has an interesting family history when it comes to this issue), but it has accelerated under him. 
In a historical irony, this has happened with the strong support of the United States, whose occupying forces drafted the original pacifist constitution in 1946. General Douglas MacArthur couldn’t have anticipated that one day countering Chinese influence and developing markets for US defence firms would be bigger concerns for Washington than Japanese militarism.