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Abe circles 1959 top court ruling to justify collective defense

Critics argue concept was still vague when Supreme Court handed down opinion

Kyodo

A decades-old Supreme Court ruling, interpreted as allowing Japan to defend allies as part of self-defense, may be used to justify Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to lift a self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, government sources said Tuesday.

One of the options is to cite a supplementary opinion by former Chief Justice Kotaro Tanaka, who said in 1959 that Japan had the obligation to defend other countries, and argue that Japan can now exercise the right to collective self-defense, the sources said.

The government is considering including Tanaka’s supplementary opinion in its basic stance to be announced before it seeks Cabinet approval to enable Japan to defend allies under armed attack.

The move is regarded as the government’s latest effort to win the support of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party. New Komeito has said the ruling did not take into account the concept of collective self-defense.

In a trial widely known as the Sunagawa case, the Supreme Court ruled in 1959 that the presence of U.S. forces did not go against Article 9 of the pacifist Constitution, and they were not considered Japanese military power.

“For a country to cooperate with other countries in defense is equal to protecting its own country. Each country has its own obligations to fulfill even if they (the obligations) are for self-defense or defense cooperation with other countries,” Tanaka said.

Prime Minster Abe and his fellow LDP lawmakers have used the ruling as a rationale to argue that Japan is allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense under limited conditions, although New Komeito remains cautious.

A supplementary opinion is often provided by the court to explain why it has decided to give a certain ruling in an important case.

Together with New Komeito, opposition party lawmakers and experts have countered the LDP’s argument, saying the ruling was handed down in 1959 when the concept of collective self-defense was vague. They say the ruling covered self-defense, not collective self-defense.

As part of his broader reworking of Japan’s security policy, Abe has said his government will make a final decision on whether Japan should engage in collective self-defense operations after receiving a report as early as in May by a panel of experts endorsed by him to discuss the issue.

The government is expected to present its basic stance based on the report, and seek support from the ruling bloc. Cabinet approval to change the constitutional interpretation is expected after this summer.