Tokyo Overturns Ban on Arms Exports in Major Policy Shift
In a groundbreaking decision that overturns decades of pacifist policy, Japan has agreed to send key missile defense systems to the United States in order to help replenish its stockpiles and bolster Ukraine’s air defenses against Russia.
Specifically, Japan will provide the US with multiple Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries, a move that required Tokyo to ease its longstanding ban on arms exports that has been in place since 1967. While Japan is not sending the missiles directly to Ukraine, the US plans to backfill its own Patriot supplies that have already been sent to aid Kyiv’s forces.
The agreement underscores Japan’s growing willingness to assume a more assertive regional security role in light of increasing Chinese military assertiveness and ongoing Russian aggression. However, it also represents an enormous break from Japan’s strictly defensive postwar posture.
Deal Follows Months of US Requests
The Patriot missile deal comes after months of repeated requests from Washington for Japan to provide such technology.
As Russia has deliberately targeted Ukraine’s energy and civilian infrastructure in recent months, advanced air defense systems like the Patriot have become increasingly critical for Kyiv.
With US stockpiles running low, finding ways to replenish Patriot missiles has become a priority to ensure a continued supply line to Ukraine. Japan’s PAC-3 interceptors are considered among the most advanced in the world.
“We welcome Japan’s decision to move forward with plans to modify its defense export policies so it can help provide Ukraine the missiles and warning systems it needs,” a White House official said.
What Patriot Missiles Can Do
The MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system provides advanced point and area defense against a variety of aerial threats including aircraft, drones, and tactical ballistic missiles.
|Up to 100 km
|Semi-active and active radar homing
|High explosive blast fragmentation
Modern PAC-3 variants of the Patriot interceptor are designed to directly strike incoming missiles through kinetic energy, making them well suited to counter Russian bombardment tactics.
Tokyo reportedly plans to provide “several hundred missiles” to the US, which will use them to backfill its own stockpile. Those US missiles can then be sent onward to Ukraine as needed.
Move Ends 1976 Ban on Arms Exports
The Patriot missile deal represents the most significant change so far to Japan’s longstanding prohibition on exporting arms and defense technology to other countries, put in place after World War 2.
While Tokyo has recently allowed some exceptions for close partners, this is the first major overhaul of the 1976 Three Principles on Arms Exports in over a decade.
The historic ban has kept Japan from assisting allies with military capabilities despite having advanced domestic defense industry products. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and increased pressure from Washington – appears to have provided the impetus for Japan to revisit this policy.
“It is important for Japan to act responsibly as a member of the international community by providing as much support as possible to Ukraine and by implementing sanctions against Russia in cooperation with G7 and other partners,” said Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada.
What Comes Next
This Patriot deal is widely expected to be just the first of similar agreements between Japan and the US as the Ukraine conflict continues into 2023.
In fact, reports indicate the two allies are already negotiating future potential transfers of key munitions like missiles, ammunition, and drones that would also help resupply depleted American stockpiles.
Furthermore, policy experts say Japan may also now sell weapons directly to allies in Europe who have donated much of their own hardware to Ukraine. Australia, which faces its own security threat from China, could also benefit.
While Japan is unlikely to completely abandon its postwar principles, Russia’s invasion does appear to have irrevocably opened the door to more substantive Japanese military support for friendly nations when deemed necessary. This Patriot missile deal is merely the first step through that door as Tokyo signals it will step up as a regional security provider.
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