Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to appoint Ambassador to France Ichiro Komatsu to head the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which advises on interpreting the Constitution, apparently because he appears more amenable to the lifting of Japan’s self-imposed ban on engaging in the right of collective self-defense.
The appointment of a diplomat is unusual because it is customary for the bureau’s deputy director general to be promoted to director general. If confirmed, Komatsu will succeed Tsuneyuki Yamamoto, who reportedly is opposed to lifting the ban on collective self-defense under the current interpretation of the Constitution, government sources said Friday.
The right allows a country to come to the defense of an ally under armed attack.
The latest move reflects the strong intention of Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to change the current interpretation. Japan has maintained that it does not permit itself to engage in collective self-defense because doing so would go beyond the extent of self-defense allowed under the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.
But a reversal in the interpretation could backfire as the LDP’s Buddhist-backed ally, New Komeito, opposes collective self-defense. Opposition parties are also likely to criticize any shift in the interpretation as arbitrary.
Abe’s decision to pick Komatsu, 62, is expected to be finalized Thursday with Cabinet approval.
The government will appoint Yamamoto, 63, who has headed the legislation bureau since December 2011, as a Supreme Court justice, the sources said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Friday that Abe’s Cabinet in principle tries to “put the right person in the right place” rather than appoint officials based on seniority.
LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba welcomed Komatsu’s appointment, telling reporters Friday that he is “just the right person to realize” the change in the interpretation to lift the ban against collective self-defense, as sought by the party.
Ishiba said the LDP will aim to enact a bill to enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense to provide a legal background for the rethink in the government’s interpretation of the right.
Abe is eager to revise the current interpretation and in February revived an expert panel he originally set up in 2007 to resume discussions on lifting the self-imposed ban. He also wants to amend the Constitution itself, ultimately changing Article 9.
Komatsu was involved in discussions at the panel as head of the Foreign Ministry’s International Legal Affairs Bureau during Abe’s first stint as prime minister.
The relaunched panel is scheduled to make proposals to the ruling coalition this autumn.
The government plans to end the interpretation that bars collective self-defense after it receives the panel’s proposals. By replacing the Cabinet Legislation Bureau chief, the government apparently aims to get the ball rolling.
A native of Kanagawa Prefecture, Komatsu quit Hitotsubashi University and entered the Foreign Ministry in 1972. He has served as the ambassador to France since September 2011.