The world has experienced constant turnovers since the beginning of history, with fluid inter-state relations characterized by peace and conflict. The international system has always revealed an embedded insecurity due to its anarchic nature. Therefore, the gradual change of Japan’s long-standing pacifistic attitude is also a result of this. The country’s transition towards the prohibition of arms export has recently come to attention.

The country’s post-war beliefs and strategies have been called into question following the recent approval of the export of fighter jets to other countries.

Japan, once a known imperialist state, fully adopted pacifism in the aftermath of the catastrophic events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The post-war constitution, as enforced by the United States, firmly established this development. According to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, all forms of conflict need to be prevented and at the same time, military capabilities should not be enhanced.

As a result, this underlined the state’s eagerness to strengthen global peace and security through peaceful practices and represented Japan’s devotion to pacifism, which ever since World War II has become a defining feature of the country.

Originally, Japan intended to engage in the revival of its economy mainly through commercial activities while keeping its self-defense capabilities at an all-time low and staying under the United States’ extended deterrence. However, an important transition was experienced in the year 2014. In May of the same year, Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet’s statement on the right of collective self-defense served as a major example of how Japan began to perceive international security in a different light.

This, as a result, strengthened the notion that the evolution of the global balance of power, increasing advancement in technologies, and the growing arms race, could impact the security of Japan, regardless of the origin of the threat. Consequently, the year 2014 experienced the revision of Japan’s decades-old restriction on arms export during the Abe administration, vowing to restore Japan’s influence in the international arena, initiating the export of certain non-lethal military supplies.

Fast forward to December 2023, the Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio-led cabinet authorized a revision of the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology along with their implementation guidelines. The so-called “Three Principles on Arms Export” first enacted in 1967, barred the export of weapons to nations that were part of the Soviet bloc, were subject to UN arms embargoes, or were engaged in or likely to be engaged in global warfare.

However, under newly established guidelines, Japan authorized a modification allowing the sale of 80 lethal weapons and their components and aimed to provide the United States with Patriot missiles, allowing for the export of previously prohibited lethal weapons.

This year the Cabinet of Japan approved to export of future next-generation fighter jets, which it is co-developing with Italy and Britain to other states, representing the most recent shift away from the nation’s post-war ideals.

The controversial decision to permit global arms trade is likely to support efforts to develop Japan’s arms market and strengthen its position in international security in addition to securing Japan’s participation in the joint fire jet project.

Interestingly, the government also approved an amendment to Japan’s policies regarding the transfer of technology and weapons, allowing the sale of jointly created lethal weapons to nations outside of the alliance. However, the government has come under fire from critics for committing to the fighter jet project without informing the public or seeking their consent for the significant shift in policy. In response, the government has pledged not to sell any lethal weapons produced in collaboration for use in ongoing hostilities and has claimed that exports of these weapons are currently being restricted.

Under its pacifist constitution, Japan has generally prohibited the sale of armaments, but in response to growing regional and international hostilities, particularly those arising from China, it has moved quickly to deregulate. It also perceives the growing trend of joint military exercises conducted by China and Russia close to its borders as a potential threat which serves as another significant reason to strengthen its defence.

Tokyo’s arms export and transfer of technology form significant elements of its larger security strategy for the region, primarily intending to uphold the status quo. The present geopolitical scenario is significantly influenced by China’s military buildup, so amidst the present state of escalated tensions globally in general and in the East and South China Seas in particular, Japan seems to be exhibiting a growing desire to enhance its defense capabilities and expand military partnerships.

Additionally, it is believed that Japan could further strengthen its alliance with the U.S. by becoming a more significant participant in the defense industry. The vast majority of exceptions were granted before the repeal of the ban, to strengthen the alliance between the two nations. It is expected that the Japanese Prime Minister will discuss new defense and weapons industry cooperation with American officials in his upcoming visit to the U.S. in April, hence, strengthening the U.S.–Japan alliance.

The new approach may also assist Japan in advocating for further participation in regional defense alliances such as the AUKUS between Australia, the U.S., and the UK.

Japan’s military position is undergoing a fundamental transition as seen by its revised policies and the changed perception of its security landscape. The present-day uncertain security landscape has resulted in a power vacuum, which Japan aspires to fill. Japan aims to achieve this objective by positioning itself as a security provider in the region.

Given the sensitivity of the situation, Japan plans to adopt a cautious approach while maintaining a low risk of conflict. Moreover, by bolstering military relations with nations in the region and by expanding collaboration with the U.S. and its partners through technology transfers, Japan is aiming for more practical exports of arms. Therefore, Japan’s evolving strategy not only ensures Japan’s security interests but also helps to maintain stability in the region.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email