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US Seeks To Acquire TNT From Japan To Help Ukraine

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The United States plans to procure TNT supplies in Japan for 155 mm artillery shells, two people with details on the matter informed a British news agency Reuters, while Washington sends arms and ammunition to help Ukraine combat the Russian forces. 

For Japan, which has maintained distance from the war, any such activity would stir doubts regarding helping Ukraine because Japanese export rules prohibit its companies from selling fatal items to other countries such as the howitzer shells that Ukraine launches daily targeting the Russian units in the southeastern regions.

However, the allies have managed to sell TNT amid global scarcity of arms.

“There is a way for the United States to buy explosives from Japan,” one of the two people familiar with the matter in Japan informed Reuters, highlighting the importance of the matter.

Export restrictions are comparatively less strict on dual-use products or commercially sold equipment than the items sold for being used militarily, and therefore, the US can purchase Panasonic Toughbook laptops for its military.

The other source said that Tokyo, where the US Defense Secretary Llyod Austin was hosted this week, has informed the US government that industrial TNT should be allowed to be sold as it is not used for the military only.

The source further added that the US seeks to establish a Japanese company to build a TNT supply chain to avail explosives to US army-owned munitions plants that would be packed into 155mm shell cases.

Japan’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Economy did not confirm whether any company in the country had arrived on the issue regarding the export of TNT explosives. In an email, it said that items that are not prohibited as per military law would be exported under the designated export regulations taking the buyer’s intent into account, including whether these explosives will be used to hamper international security.

The US State Department indirectly answered the questions regarding their plan to acquire TNT from Japan while they did say that Washington was working with its allies and partners “to provide Ukraine with the support it needs” for defense.  Japan “has demonstrated leadership in supporting Ukraine’s defense,” it further added.

Japan shows intent to help Ukraine

The Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida is willing to help Ukraine as Japan fears that the Russian victory would encourage China to invade Taiwan and involve Japan in a regional war.

In 2022, he also warned that Ukraine might be “East Asia Tomorrow”. The Japanese administration also reported the country’s largest military build-up since World War II. For decades, Japan’s state pacifism has influenced its foreign policy which limits Japan’s offerings of lethal military aid. This restricts Tokyo to only supply food rations, flak jackets, and helmets to Ukraine.

Kishida decided to provide jeeps and trucks to Ukraine after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Japan during the Hiroshima G7 leaders’ summit which was held in May 2023.

Japan has been inclined towards providing military support to Ukraine, but Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior member at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said that the quantity of legal weapons for delivery is still contested.

He said, “The fact that Japan has decided to give trucks to Ukraine shows that things are changing. However, there doesn’t yet appear to be any political consensus around the issue of sending lethal aid.”

Japan is one of the many allies of Washington that is being sought by the latter to provide aid to Ukraine as the Western country struggles with extended military supply chains. 

The US also reached out to South Korea which also has 155mm shell cases. Seoul’s view of providing arms to Kyiv has not yet changed, a South Korean defense official told Reuters.                                                                                                                       

In Tokyo last week, when asked about the potential changes in Japan’s policy on lethal aid, Austin said at a press briefing that any alterations made would be Japan’s matter but, “any bit of support” for Ukraine was “always welcome”.

The sources have refused to disclose the name of the Japanese Company that would provide explosives to the US government and the quantity of TNT demanded by Washington.

22 explosives makers listed on the Japan Explosives Industry Association were contacted by Reuters out of which the Hiroshima Based firm Chugoku Kayaku is the only supplier of industrial TNT to the Japanese military.

In an email, the company said, “We have not received any direct inquiry from the US government or US military.”

Japan’s next strategy

Kishida declared the five-year military build up for Japan in December, he promised to alter the export rules so that it allows Japan to send fatal arms not just to Ukraine but also to other countries that Japan and US view as potential allies against Russia and China.

Japan’s military expansion would take it four-fifths on its path to becoming a “normal country” releasing itself from the burden of its World War Two defeat, said Akihisa Nagashima, a former deputy defense minister and a ranking LDP member of the parliamentary committee on national security.

He said, “Tackling the export restrictions is the remaining 20%.”

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