New defense chief sees SDF playing more active role in global security

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The new Defense Agency chief suggested Tuesday that Japan should be allowed to engage in collective defense and make a more active contribution to international security.

Yoshinori Ono said in an interview that overseas missions by the Self-Defense Forces, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are “very much restrained” by the government’s long-held interpretation that Japan possesses the right to collective defense — which is guaranteed under international law — but is constitutionally prohibited from exercising this right.

“Fortunately, we have constitutional research committees working at both houses of the Diet. I’d like them to discuss this issue further” to make it clear that Japan can “possess and exercise” the right, remarked the Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker.

The government has sent SDF troops overseas to join peacekeeping and other missions in the last decade, though it has carefully avoided missions that would require the use of force, such as the maintenance of security.

It has interpreted the Constitution as allowing Japanese troops to use weapons strictly in self-defense. The government has therefore dispatched SDF troops overseas only for humanitarian and logistic support missions.

Ono, 68, said that as Defense Agency chief, he will pursue ways in which the SDF can make a more active international contribution within the current framework of the Constitution.

But he also noted that SDF activities overseas have been “very much restrained, as is symbolized in the phrase ‘rear-area support,’ due to the government’s interpretation concerning collective defense.”

“The only possible way I can think of now is to have thorough discussions in public and in the Diet on what to do with this right to collective defense as well as how we should contribute to international peace,” he said.

“I hope public opinion will mature that way and eventually the Diet’s constitutional research committees will show a certain direction.”

A number of LDP lawmakers hold similar views — that the Constitution should be revised because it represents an obstacle to Japan’s efforts to make an active contribution to international security. This is a sensitive issue for Cabinet members, nevertheless, since these individuals are obliged to comply with the Constitution as public servants.

The veteran lawmaker is known as a leading policy expert within the LDP. A former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, he has occupied many party and government posts in different areas, including parliamentary vice science and technology minister and vice education minister.

The job of Defense Agency chief, which Ono was given Monday, is the first Cabinet position for the lawmaker, who has been elected to the House of Representatives six times.

He headed the LDP policy panel on national defense when the current basic defense program was created in 1995.

The government is now working to update the defense program by November to better counter new threats such as terrorism and ballistic missile attacks.