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Weapons-export ban threatened

In meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Singapore on June 3, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told him that Japan would allow the United States to export to other countries an anti-missile missile being jointly developed by Japan and the U.S. if certain conditions are met.

Japan is expected to confirm this position in a meeting of Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers to be held in Washington on June 21.

The move could undermine Japan’s long-standing weapons-exports ban, one of Japan’s postwar diplomatic principles, first formed by the Sato Cabinet in 1967 and strengthened in 1976 by the Miki Cabinet.

It is highly regrettable that the Kan administration has made such an important decision without calling for informed discussions on the matter first. Since 1999, Japan and the U.S. have been jointly developing the SM-3 Block IIA missile, due to be a core element of a missile defense system and more capable than current missiles.

The missile’s burnout velocity will be about 50 percent greater than that of earlier versions, and its kinetic warhead will be wider. It is expected that a prototype missile will be manufactured in 2011 for a launch test from a ship at sea. Components of the missile that Japan is in charge of developing include the rocket motor.

The U.S. has repeatedly requested that it be allowed to re-export the new missile system to other countries. In September 2009, the Obama administration disclosed a plan to deploy the SM-3 Block IIA missile by 2018 in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

In the meeting with Gates, Kitazawa set conditions for allowing the re-export of the missile: The re-export must contribute to Japan’s security as well as international peace and security. And the missile must not be exported to yet another country from the country that has purchased it.

These conditions are too general. Japan should renew its determination not to become a country that relies on the defense industry and its exports for prosperity.

Japan should realize that the weapons-export ban serves as an important asset of diplomacy with regard to peace-building efforts in conflict-ravaged countries and areas.

(Editorial, The Japan Times)
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