The government has drafted a new interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution that would enable Japan to come in a limited way to the defense of an ally under attack, according to a government source.
Under the draft, the Self-Defense Forces would be allowed to respond within Japan’s territorial land, sea and airspace as well as on the high seas — although it would not, in principle, be dispatched to foreign territory.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s team initially intended to give the SDF free rein on where it could operate when exercising the right to collective self-defense.
The proposed reinterpretation revolves around the argument that Japan’s right to defend itself to the minimum extent necessary also allows it to exercise some form of collective self-defense.
That interpretation is a departure from the government’s long-standing interpretation that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it due to the limits imposed by Article 9, since doing so would exceed the minimum response limit for defending the country.
Abe’s team wants to enable Japan to exercise the right in a limited manner out of consideration for its junior coalition partner New Komeito, which is wary of changing the current interpretation and lifting the self-imposed ban on collective defense.
Abe’s team aims to reinterpret the Constitution with a simple Cabinet decision.
If it succeeds, however, the government will likely avoid listing the range of activities conceived of for an SDF response, or the concrete ways in which it might engage in collective self-defense. It is believed such a policy will serve the government well in responding to emergency situations.
Therefore, to secure the backing of New Komeito, the government also plans for Abe to make a verbal commitment in the Diet stating that the government, when engaging in collective self-defense, will not send the SDF into another country or its territorial waters or airspace, the source said.
It remains uncertain whether that promise will be enough to win over New Komeito.
On Sunday, New Komeito quickly reacted to the plan. Secretary-General Yoshihisa Inoue said on NHK that even the limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense would equate to permitting Japan to use force overseas, which is banned by the Constitution.
“It won’t obtain public support easily,” he said. “We have to deliberate the matter cautiously.”
Inoue added that even the limited use of the right would change the way Japan has developed in the past several decades under the Constitution.
Given the range of perceived threats facing Japan, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, the government wants Japan to have the ability to exercise the right to collective self-defense, but only when national security would be greatly affected in the absence of a response.
The government planned to make the semantic change through a Cabinet decision by June 22, which is when the current session of the Diet ends. But amid calls from within the ruling coalition for a careful debate on the matter, it may postpone changing it until the summer or later, according to government and coalition sources.