Keenly aware of the trouble that came with ambitious generals and an expanding munitions industry, the Japanese government has long banned most weapons exports. That policy helped buttress Japan’s pacifism, but it also hindered the growth of the country’s defense industry. Because it couldn’t sell parts overseas, Japanese defense companies missed out on chances to develop tanks, fighter jets, and other weaponry with the U.S. The ban “has resulted in an isolated Japanese defense industry that produces very small quantities at very high cost,” says Lance Gatling, president of Nexial Research, a defense consulting company in Tokyo.
Japan’s Asian neighbors have taken advantage of its absence from the export scene. South Korea exported $3.4 billion worth of arms in 2013, up from $1.2 billion in 2010. China last year passed France and Britain to become the world’s fourth-largest arms exporter, behind only the U.S., Russia, and Germany, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.