Photo/Illutration Air Self-Defense Force members load bulletproof vests and other equipment onto a transport plane bound for Ukraine. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers discussing revising the nation’s restrictions on exporting defense equipment were pleasantly surprised to discover that there is no clear wording preventing the shipment of deadly weapons.

The administration of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014 compiled the three principles related to the export of defense equipment.

But operating rules limited the actual export to five types of equipment, including minesweeping, transport and rescue equipment.

The restrictions also stated that such exports were limited to nations with which Japan had a cooperative relationship in terms of national security.

That led Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in March 2022 to update the rule to include nations that had been invaded, such as Ukraine.

But even with those changes Japan has so far only sent bulletproof vests and drones to Ukraine, despite that nation’s calls for greater military support.

LDP lawmakers along with their colleagues in junior coalition partner, Komeito, began discussions from April about revising the rules and the three principles on defense equipment export.

Those who closely read the principles realized there was nothing that clearly ruled out the export of equipment that could be used to kill enemy troops, such as fighter jets, destroyers and tanks, which the Self-Defense Forces already possess.

At a May 24 meeting, Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who heads the coalition panel discussing revisions to the export principles, said, “I always thought until now that we could not export any equipment designed to kill.”

Another LDP member said the realization that there was no outright ban on such equipment would make it easier to approve revisions to the three principles and proceed with exporting lethal equipment.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said at the June 1 session of the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the present three principles and operating rules say nothing about whether deadly equipment can be exported.

But because Komeito is still clinging to its image as a pacifist party, it remains unclear if the ruling coalition will come out clearly in support of exporting equipment with the potential to kill.