24. Arms Exports, Security Legislation and the Militarization of ODA: The Three Pillars of Abe’s Security Policy Reform

9 September 2016


In the name of a “Proactive Contribution to Peace,” the Abe administration has lifted the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense and the ban on arms exports, and revised the ODA (Official Development Aid) Charter as the “three arrows” (three pillars) of its security policy reform.

     The National Security Strategy, released by the government, in December 2013 announced Japan’s participation in the joint development and production of defense equipment and technology, as well as the “strategic utilization” of ODA. 

     Japan installed the Three Principles on Arms Exports in 1967 and subsequently adopted a policy to restrain any export of arms to avoid the aggravation of international conflicts. However, the transfer of defense equipment and technology to the US was allowed in the 1980s, and missile defense cooperation with the US in the 2000s became an exception to the policy of banning arms exports. In 2011, the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan decided again to significantly ease restrictions, allowing for the international joint-development of weapons.

     In March 2014, the Abe administration ultimately lifted the Three Principles on Arms Exports and replaced them with the new “Three Principles of Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology.” The basic policy up to that point had been “not exporting arms in principle.” However, the policy has now changed to “allowing arms exports in principle” under defined conditions such as the “appropriate control” of such exports. Although the new principles prohibit the transfer of defense equipment and technology to countries involved in conflict, the original premise of “avoiding the aggravation of international conflicts” has been eliminated. 

     Regarding missile defense, if Japan were to intercept a missile attack against the US, this would be considered as exercising the right to collective self-defense. Given this, the Japanese government has been working towards lifting the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense in conjunction with lifting the ban on arms exports. 

     It is the Japanese business sector that has been calling for an end to the ban on arms exports. With a restructuring of the defense industry underway through mergers and acquisitions in Europe and the US, the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) has claimed that the Japanese defense industry must keep up with the international joint-development and production of weapons, instead of limiting its market to Japan.

     In a February 2015 Cabinet Decision, the Abe administration replaced the ODA Charter with the Development Cooperation Charter. The Charter now permits assistance to foreign military forces for “non-military purposes,” such as disaster relief, something that had previously been prohibited. Up until then, Japanese ODA had been prohibited from providing any assistance to foreign military forces, even for non-military purposes, in order to avoid any potential military support or the aggravation of international conflicts. This has been overturned.

     Patrol vessels are, for example, defined as arms. After lifting the ban on arms exports and the ODA reform, the Japanese government decided to provide the Philippine government with ten patrol vessels, and it has acted in a similar way towards the Vietnamese government. Both countries have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, so this move on the part of Japan is obviously a “strategic” implementation of ODA in order to keep China in check.

     When the Guidelines of the Japan-US Defense Cooperation were updated in April 2015, in a joint statement by the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee, the United States welcomed Japan’s “recent monumental achievements,” including the Japanese Cabinet Decision to develop seamless security legislation, the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, and the Development Cooperation Charter, among other measures such as national secrecy law, cyber security law and the space policy plan.  All of these aim to integrate and implement Japanese forces, weapons and technology as part of the greater strategy of the US military.


Akira Kawasaki,

Executive Committee member, Peace Boat



   National Security Strategy (December 17, 2013)


   1967 Three Principles on Arms Exports


   2014 Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology 


   “A Proposal for Defense Plan Charter” Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) (May 14, 2013)


   Atsushi Hiroshima, “Cabinet OKs charter permitting noncombat assistance to    foreign militaries,” The Asahi Shimbun, (February 10, 2015)


   2015 Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation