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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:58 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #146: November 29, 2004

Japan's Re-emerging Arms Industry

John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)

In all likelihood, Japan's self-imposed weapons export ban will be lifted in the near future ushering in not only a new era of joint research between the US and Japan but also a more competitive and dangerous environment. As the major US defense contractors gathered in Japan two weeks ago with the objective of strengthening their bid to secure a large portion of the 1 trillion Yen that the Japanese government plans to allocate for its missile shield project, an odd sense of uncertainty loomed. Lucrative Japanese defense contracts, which have traditionally gone to US firms, are now increasingly being designated to Japanese companies such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Pressure from the US government, which managed to divert Japanese plans in the 1980s to develop an indigenous FS-X fighter jet in favor of a remodeled US developed F-16 fighter, is no longer a determining factor. The long-term efforts of the Japanese Business Federation (Keidanren) to push for the development of Japanese defense industries, through its Defense Production Committee, seem to be paying off. At no time since the end of the Korean War has the Japanese government been so openly in favor of promoting its domestic weapons industry.

Although Japanese defense industry representatives justify their (re)emergence as central players in the bid for Japanese governmental contracts by claiming that "Japan's environment is unique when it comes to missile defense," closer to reality is the fact that the Japanese government prefers to allocate cornerstone defense projects to domestic concerns. Official Japanese sentiment, as exemplified by the Koizumi administration, is demonstrating a mounting desire to take national security measures into its own hands. This tendency is recognition that the security environment in East Asia has intensified and is illustrative of a long-standing view, held by Japanese officials, that the Korean Peninsula is a critical "zone of stability" for Japan. As the United States continues to step up plans to withdraw troops from South Korea, despite having failed to resolve the nuclear threat posed by the North, the Japanese government is seemingly trying to compensate by building up its own "defense." Japan's "new" posture is also indicative of a changing US-Japan security alliance structure that is becoming increasingly dependent on a Japanese military contribution for maintaining US interests in East Asia and the Middle East. As Japanese troops become more active overseas and valued as an integral part of Japan's domestic and foreign policies, Japan's defense industry is moving to reclaim its position as the primary supplier of Japan's armaments and "guarantor" of security. Strict constitutional limits on the Self-Defense Forces are still in place, however, we are just now witnessing the reemergence of this role, one that will not likely fully evolve until twenty years from now. The road to a "normal" and more militarily present Japan seems irreversible.

Questions abound, however, as to whether a more militarily active and independent Japan will bring security to East Asia, the Middle East and the world at large. East Asian countries such as North Korea, South Korea and China certainly do not concur. In the long-term, once Japanese defense firms start to take advantage of Japan's market presence and government-to-government contacts in Southeast Asia by exporting major weapons systems, US firms may start to feel the pinch, giving birth to an increasingly competitive and ultimately dangerous global environment.

If the scenario portrayed above is credible, Japan should be advised not to proceed along the road to increased remilitarization and should focus instead on resolving what are some of the core causes of instability and insecurity in the region: economic disparity, authoritarian politics and the proliferation of small and major weapons.

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