Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has attempted to dispel concerns that the Self-Defense Forces might use force in a far-off land if Japan lifts its ban on collective self-defense, saying such a scenario isn’t being entertained by current debate.
The remarks Friday come as the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explores the possibility of lifting the self-imposed ban on the use of force overseas by changing its interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution.
The defense chief told a news conference that the debate over whether the government should change its interpretation so Japan can aid an ally under armed attack “doesn’t have the opposite end of the globe in mind.”
Onodera was responding to remarks by Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobushige Takamizawa, who suggested the possibility that the SDF could be sent to faraway places.
“We can’t simply say (that what goes on) at the opposite end of the globe has nothing to do with Japan,” Takamizawa, a former senior Defense Ministry official, said at a meeting of a Liberal Democratic Party policy panel Thursday, adding the SDF would not be unequivocally barred from being sent to distant regions.
Abe is pushing for the SDF to play a stronger role internationally, but Onodera seemed to be separating that issue from the potential use of force that would arise from lifting the prohibition on collective self-defense.
Onodera said the view that Japan would go to the other end of the world and conduct war is far removed from reality, yet noted such a view has “taken on a life of its own and fanned concerns among the public and in neighboring countries.”
The defense chief said the debate about whether the nation should be able to exercise the right to collective self-defense has emerged from a “changing environment” surrounding Japan, including North Korea.
Successive Japanese governments have held that the country has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it because of the limits imposed by Article 9 of the Constitution, which bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Earlier in the week, an experts’ panel on security matters set up by Abe and headed by Shunji Yanai, a former ambassador to the United States, resumed discussions after a seven-month hiatus to lay the groundwork for a review of the government’s current interpretation of the Constitution.