A government panel will say that the Self-Defense Forces should be allowed to help allies that come under attack, in what would be a major reversal of Japan’s ban on collective self-defense under the pacifist Constitution.
The panel on Tuesday discussed ways national defense capability can be improved and said it will present its near-final draft recommendation in coming weeks.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants Japan to play a greater role in international peacekeeping and step up its defense posture, citing potential military threats from China and North Korea.
The 14-member panel, headed by former Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai, says the revision is possible if the government alters its current interpretation of the Constitution. Formal constitutional change involves high hurdles, though Abe eventually hopes to achieve that.
The Constitution, written under U.S. direction after World War II, says the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation” and that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” The government has interpreted those clauses as meaning that Japan can’t possess offensive military weapons such as ICBMs or long-range strategic bombers.
Abe and other supporters of the change believe that restrictions should be removed from the military, and that Japan’s current self-defense-only policy is inadequate as the region’s security environment becomes more challenging. They say there may be instances in which SDF personnel have to fight for allies during international peacekeeping missions, even when Japan is not attacked directly.
Japan’s peacekeeping missions have been limited to noncombat roles because of its pacifist rules, and a change would allow its troops to do more.
The draft report will also urge the government to relax restrictions on arms exports, participate more actively in U.N.-led security operations and prepare a legal framework for the SDF to counter intrusions on remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands claimed by China. It would stress the importance of strengthening defense ties with allies, most importantly the United States.
Government officials say the panel’s final report is expected in April.