A panel hand-picked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to propose that the government reinterpret the Constitution to lift the long-held ban on collective self-defense, and limit its use by establishing six conditions meant to ensure civilian control, sources said.
Since the issue of exercising the U.N. right to aid allies under attack remains controversial with the public, the sources said Saturday that the conditions would require that:
- Japan’s security be under great threat.
- Countries with close ties to Japan be under attack.
- Clear requests for help be made from Japan’s allies.
- Approval be secured from third countries for Japanese forces to pass through their territory.
- The prime minister, as a rule, obtain Diet approval for exercising collective defense.
- The prime minister make a comprehensive decision on the effectiveness of the action.
In a report to be submitted to Abe around mid-May, the panel will likely urge the change, in the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, given Asia’s changing security environment.
Japan has maintained that it has the right to collective self-defense under international law but cannot exercise it due to the limits imposed by war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes and only allows the minimum force necessary for Japan’s self-defense.
With the backing received Thursday from U.S. President Barack Obama on using collective self-defense, Abe is expected to accelerate his efforts on the issue, which is one of his priorities.
Based on the panel report, the government is expected to craft its basic policy on the matter and seek Cabinet approval in the summer. However, Abe must first secure the endorsement of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner New Komeito.
The report will likely state specifically that the Self-Defense Forces can defend U.S. vessels on the high seas, sweep mines along sea lanes from the Middle East, and inspect ships suspected of heading for an enemy that has attacked the United States, Japan’s top ally.
The panel is headed by Shunji Yanai, a former ambassador to the United States.
The security experts will likely propose that the “international conflicts” stipulated in Article 9 be redefined as only those involving Japan as a major actor, the sources said. Currently, the term is interpreted as meaning all conflicts under the Constitution.
If the new definition is adopted, the SDF can be mobilized for U.N. collective security operations, and provide fuel, transportation and medical treatment to multinational forces in combat zones.
The public remains divided on the issue, and New Komeito is wary about what would be the first major overhaul of security policy since the war. Abe also plans to revise a series of laws to prepare the legal framework for the country to use the right.
The panel is expected to urge the government to allow the SDF to be dispatched to defend the nation, rather than confining it to policing, when so-called gray zone situations that fall short of full-fledged military attacks occur, the sources added.
Japan remains vigilant against China’s maritime assertiveness, especially its repeated intrusions into waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The uninhabited islets are administered by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.