Aso backtracks on collective defense

Shuns earlier wish to reinterpret Constitution to exercise right to come to aid of allies

Kyodo News

Prime Minister Taro Aso apparently backpedaled Tuesday and said there was no possibility that he would try to change the interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

The remark contrasts with the positive view he had on the contentious issue shortly after taking office in September.

It also comes just days after the firing of the Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff, who won ¥3 million in an essay contest for writing a piece promoting the use of that right and denying that Japan waged a war of aggression in the 1930s and ’40s.

The government dismissed ASDF Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami on Friday, and he retired Monday.

In late September, Aso said in New York that he had “reiterated that basically the interpretation (of the Constitution) should be changed” and that “the matter of the right to collective self-defense is important.”

Aso has been wanting the government to examine the idea of changing the interpretation of the Constitution so the military can exercise the right to collective self-defense, which allows Japan to come to the aid of an ally under attack.

Japan takes the position that it has this right but “cannot exercise” it because the Constitution bans the use of force to solve international conflicts. Some experts dispute this interpretation.

The issue of whether Japan can exercise the right to collective defense is a politically sensitive one often raised in connection with missions undertaken by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, Japan’s closest security ally.

‘No repeats’: Aso

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Tuesday he was told by Prime Minister Taro Aso to ensure there is no repeat of problems similar to the row over Japan’s wartime role sparked by the recently dismissed air force chief.

Speaking to reporters, Hamada said Aso also told him to punish Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces personnel who commit similar policy infractions, as well tighten civilian control over the SDF, especially with regard to public expressions of political opinions by ranking officers.

The move came after Gen. Toshio Tamogami, 60, retired from the Air Self-Defense Force effective Monday after he was sacked Friday as ASDF chief of staff.

Tamogami wrote an essay denying Japan was an aggressor during the war it waged in the last century. The essay, released Friday, won a ¥3 million top prize in a competition organized by hotel and condominium developer Apa Group under the theme “True Modern History.”

Defense Ministry sources said more than 50 other SDF ranks wrote essays for the competition but details of the contents are not yet known.

The Democratic Party of Japan decided Tuesday to seek the summoning of Tamogami to a committee of the opposition-controlled House of Councilors for unsworn testimony.