Abe’s panel on examining collective defense kicks off

by Hiroko Nakata

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Friday the first meeting of a government panel tasked with debating how far Japan should be allowed to go in defending allies who come under attack, amid rising tension over security, including North Korea’s nuclear programs.

The panel will review the ban on “collective self-defense,” which means using force to come to the aid of an ally under attack. It has been banned in Japan under the official interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution.

The panel comprises 13 experts on law, defense and foreign policy who are widely expected to be advocates of Abe’s position criticizing the interpretation for limiting Japan’s role in its security arrangement with the United States.

Thus, they are expected to propose relaxing the ban on collective defense when it concludes a final report as early as in September.

The move could mean the first major shift in national security in 60 years since World War II.

“In constructing new national security policies, based on situations in the new era, it is important to show to the public clear linchpins — what Japan in the new era should and should not do,” Abe told the panel.

He added that he also wants the panel to take into account the government’s past interpretations of the Constitution.

At the start of the meeting, Abe said he wants the panel to discuss four specific scenarios.

The first is whether a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel can counterattack when a warship from the United States sailing alongside is attacked on the high seas.

The second is whether Japan can intercept a ballistic missile aimed at an ally if Japanese radar detects it.

The third whether Japan can use arms to aid other countries’ soldiers if they come under attack while taking part in the same international peacekeeping operations.

The last scenario is whether Japan can dispatch the SDF to offer transportation and medical treatment in battlefield environments.

Former Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai, who is chairing the panel, said no member has commented negatively on Japan’s use of the right to collective defense.

“It is not wrong that Japan has limited its actions because of our historical background,” Yanai said after the meeting. “But the security situation in Northeast Asia has changed dramatically. Our discussions have to be based on this radical change.”

The panel will hold five or six more meetings before crafting a final report. The next meeting will be June 11, and debate will be on the first scenario, Yanai said.