Japan’s shipment of defense items to Ukraine considered trouble spot


When Ukraine asked for help from Japan in response to the Russian invasion, the Ministry of Defense acted quickly.

It sent body armor, helmets, tents, emergency rations, medical kits and other supplies in mid-March. It also dispatched in early April masks and protective suits against chemical weapons, as well as drones.

The government applied the Self-Defense Force Law as the basis for providing such equipment.

Because the law states that end items, except weapons, can be transferred to developing countries, the latest body armor and drones purchased from the private sector are all considered “end items”. ‘use’ to ship.

However, the supplies of the Self-Defense Forces include defense equipment whose transfer abroad is not allowed, while drones could be used in attacks although they are exempt from restrictions.


In 2014, the government agreed to allow the export of defense equipment if certain conditions were met, but an expert points out that its interpretation is unreasonable.

Originally, the export of arms and related technology outside the country was banned in Japan, in principle.

But then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration adopted the Three Principles on the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology at a Cabinet meeting in 2014, allowing arms exports under certain conditions. .

The new principles were initially aimed at reducing the increasingly high costs of defense equipment.

Until then, Japanese defense equipment was banned from export. Major suppliers were unable to mass-produce them, leading to higher unit prices and financially straining defense budgets.

Japan was also excluded from international co-development projects in which member countries pooled their money and brought their own technology, leading to increased development costs to develop defense equipment itself.

To remedy the situation, the government has proposed the three new principles under the banner of promoting international cooperation.

That year, the export of surface-to-air missile parts to the United States was first approved under the new rules.

Japan has also moved to launch a joint air-to-air missile research program with Britain under the guise of exporting “technology” overseas.

The following year, 2015, the government decided to export software and parts for the display system used for Aegis-equipped ships to the United States with the intention of jointly producing the system.

But in recent years, the objective of the new rules has not been limited to cost reduction.

In 2017, Japan leased aircraft previously used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force to train its pilots in the Philippines for a fee.

But Tokyo then revised the public finance law to add an exception rule allowing the SDF to transfer ownership of planes to Manila.

Japan also donated helicopter parts to the Philippines in 2019.

These offers aim to strengthen the Philippines’ warning and surveillance capabilities in order to control China in the South China Sea where Beijing is militarizing the islands.

In 2020, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. entered into an agreement with the Philippine government to export air defense systems. The move is also aimed at cultivating the Japanese defense industry.


But unlike previous cases, Japan is now supplying material to a place where two countries are at war with each other.

The transfer of defense equipment and technology to countries “parties to a conflict” is not allowed under the three new principles.

However, the principles define such countries as those “against which the United Nations Security Council takes action to maintain or restore international peace and security in the event of armed attack”.

The government concluded that it could supply equipment to Ukraine because the term can only apply to North Korea at the time of the Korean War and to Iraq at the time of the war. of the Gulf.

In addition, defense equipment whose export is prohibited under the new principles is detailed in a list attached to the Export Trade Control Ordinance based on the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.

In the latter case, only bulletproof vests, protective chemical masks and suits are restricted under the new principles.

As for the drones, which are not applicable to the principles and are also exempt from examination, they are believed to be operated by civilians in Ukraine to scout the positions of Russian forces and provide information to Ukrainian troops to attack their enemies.

As for body armor and other equipment already supplied to Ukraine, a senior SDF official said it would be impossible to gain public understanding if Japan exported highly lethal weapons.

In addition, the official said the equipment sent to Ukraine was narrowly within what the SDF can provide.

However, some Defense Ministry officials have raised concerns about the supply of drones. They said it was a completely different form of support from conventional forms and could contradict previous policies.

Military commentator Tetsuo Maeda expressed his understanding for the provision of defense equipment, saying it was permitted in light of the three principles on the transfer of defense equipment and technology.

But he stressed the drones could be used in attacks, adding: “Ukraine is clearly a party to the war, and the government’s interpretation is unreasonable in any way.”

He continued: “After all, it is up to the government to determine how much it wants to increase its arms exports. Taking this opportunity, we need to deepen the discussions about what we think about weapons.


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