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Kiyofumi Iwata

【#1144】Japan Should Defend Ukraine’s Democracy by Exporting Air Defense Equipment

Kiyofumi Iwata / 2024.05.08 (Wed)

May 7, 2024

“If you don’t approve aid to Ukraine now, Kyiv could lose the war by the end of the year,” U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said on April 18, expressing his sense of crisis over Ukraine. This sense of crisis may have been shared in the U.S. Congress. After a half year of stalled deliberations, the Congress passed a bill for aid to Ukraine and other places on April 23. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer had called for approving the bill, saying that the United States should always defend democracies when they are in danger.

About two weeks earlier, on April 11, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in his address to the U.S. Congress emphasized that freedom and democracy are under threat globally and that democracies around the world should strive for defending freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

In this context, Japan should do its utmost to support Ukraine that is fighting on the frontlines of democracy’s confrontation with authoritarianism.

Hindrance to arms exports

Not only financial assistance but also the provision of completed defense equipment, especially air defense equipment and ammunition that are seriously short in Ukraine, should be an extremely effective support for the country. At present, their production in the whole of democracies cannot catch up with their consumption. Japan’s provision of such equipment would demonstrate its solidarity with not only Ukraine but also the entire democratic camp.

Air defense equipment such as Patriot missiles can be produced in Japan but cannot be exported in principle from Japan to other countries under the Implementation Guidelines for the government’s Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology. The guidelines limit exports of defense equipment as finished products to five categories: rescue, transportation, warning, surveillance, and minesweeping.

During the ruling party negotiations between the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito party since spring last year, there have been discussions about expanding the five categories. Initially, the LDP had proposed abolishing the categories and allowing export of lethal weapons. However, in the course of the discussions, the LDP changed its position and proposed to add air defense and maritime security equipment to the categories for exports. Komeito for its part agreed to expand the scope of exports but proposed to limit the additional categories to educational and training equipment and landmine removal equipment.

Komeito must face up to the critical world situation

Komeito has taken a cautious position on defense equipment exports, saying that Japan has historically not allowed such exports in order not to encourage conflict. But, how will air defense equipment that directly protect Ukrainian soldiers and civilians under illegal invasion encourage the war? Refusing to provide air defense equipment would lead to a recognition of Russia’s rule by force and a denial of the rule of law. Won’t it end up helping Russia’s aggression and abandon Ukraine’s democracy?

Komeito, which adheres to the so-called “one-nation pacifism” of keeping Japan from being involved in lethal acts by refraining from exporting lethal weapons, should face up to the crisis in the world order as emphasized by Prime Minister Kishida in his address to the U.S. Congress.

Kiyofumi Iwata is a member of the Planning Committee at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Formerly, he served as Chief of Staff of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.