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Editorial: Japan must debate defense supply to Ukraine to avoid violating principles

  • May 23, 2022
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

How can Japan support Ukraine, which remains under invasion by Russia? Japan’s actions as a peaceful nation are being called into question.


The Japanese government has handed non-lethal Self-Defense Forces equipment, such as bulletproof vests and protective masks and clothing, to Ukraine free of charge. It is only natural for international society to act in solidarity to support Ukraine. Europe and the United States have gone a step further and supplied weapons.


Having said that, the decision-making process in Japan regarding its move has not been transparent, and we cannot say that the government has provided a sufficient explanation to the public.


First of all, it is questionable that the government classed Ukraine, which is in a state of war, as a country that is “not party to a conflict.”


The government’s “Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology” prohibit military supplies such as weapons being transferred to a country that is party to a conflict. This is clarified as “a country against which the United Nations Security Council is taking measures,” such as adopting a resolution, in the event of an armed attack. Based on this definition, the government judged that the prohibition does not apply to Ukraine. This is unreasonable from any angle.


Operational guidelines were also suddenly revised to allow the provision of the equipment to Ukraine, which is geographically distant from Japan and is a country that it is difficult to say Japan has close ties with in the security field. Japan’s response, which it says was for “this time alone,” was hastily contrived.


Furthermore, there are questions over the Self-Defense Forces’ provision of drones to Ukraine. The government has explained that “they are commercialized products, so they don’t fall under the three principles,” but it is difficult to draw the line between commercial products and those for military use. It cannot be ruled out that the drones will be used for reconnaissance and other such purposes. And verifying how they are used is another obstacle.


In April, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party proposed revisions of the three principles to make it possible to transfer a wide range of equipment overseas in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is believed that the party made the suggestion with lethal power in mind. The government must refrain from expanding the scope of the principles as if to take advantage of the crisis.


The German government, which was hesitant to provide weapons, made a major turnabout and decided to provide self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine. However, this was done through a democratic process that included obtaining the consent of the main parties in the Bundestag.


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should provide a detailed explanation on the requests Japan received from Ukraine, and on Japan’s selection of the equipment it is supplying, among other such matters.

The Diet, meanwhile, must calmly and thoroughly debate the issue and fulfill its role of applying the brakes so that the three principles are not undermined.

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