Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is gaining political momentum to achieve one of his long-held goals as a key advisory panel prepares to propose that the government change its interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution to let Japan engage in collective self-defense as defined by the United Nations.
Shunji Yanai, who heads the panel on security issues, said on an NHK program Sunday that the panel will propose the government change its interpretation by the end of this year.
“Current government views are so narrow and (Japan) has refrained from doing even what is not prohibited by the Constitution,” Yanai argued. “In other words, use of collective self-defense has been accepted under international law and it is not prohibited by the Constitution.”
On the same program, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the Japan-U.S. military alliance would be severely impaired if, for example, a Japanese warship did not launch a counterattack after an American naval vessel in a joint operation was attacked by a common enemy on the high seas.
The government interprets the Constitution, which bans the use of force to settle international conflicts, as thus barring Japan from making such a counterattack, even though the U.S. is Japan’s sole military ally.
Onodera said the National Defense Program Outline due to be compiled by year’s end should include the panel’s recommendations for reinterpreting the Constitution.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a high-ranking official close to Abe said he believes the panel’s report should only discuss certain scenarios in which Japan can invoke the right of collective self-defense, rather than give blanket approval to all activities conducted by the Self-Defense Forces.
“People may feel anxious when it comes to collective self-defense,” the official said.
“I think we should discuss concrete, specific examples,” such as allowing the SDF to shoot down a ballistic missile flying toward U.S. territory.
Due to the ban on using force, the Constitution has long been interpreted as barring Japan from engaging in collective self-defense, which allows it to attack any country that attacks its ally.
If this interpretation is dropped, it would considerably expand the scope of Japan’s military operations with the U.S. Changing it has long been taboo, in particular amid the West-East confrontation of the Cold War.
The panel was set up in 2007 during Abe’s first, short-lived stint as prime minister. He failed to receive its final report because he stepped down that September.
The panel’s 2008 report recommended that Japan be allowed to use collective self-defense in four hypothetical cases, including shooting down what appears to be a ballistic missile flying toward the U.S. and allowing the SDF to counterattack when a friendly force in U.N.-led peacekeeping operations is attacked by a third country.
The report was submitted to Abe’s successor, Yasuo Fukuda, who took no further action on the issue during his year in office. Soon after Abe returned as prime minister in December, he reconvened the panel and asked it to submit a second report.
The panel is expected to resume talks later this month or in September.
Senior government officials have said the panel is likely to add more scenarios in drawing up the second report, saying the security situation has changed considerably since 2007.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined comment at a Monday press conference, saying the government has not yet received any recommendations from the panel.
The extraordinary Diet session that starts in September “should focus on strategies for economic growth,” and the government will decide how it will handle collective self-defense issues while assessing Diet deliberation schedules, Suga said.