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Key Abe panel says Japan should exercise right of collective self-defense

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

A key security policy advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicized its much-awaited final report on Thursday and — as expected — pushed for a change in the government’s constitutional interpretation to allow Japan to use the right to collective self-defense, at least in some limited cases.

Abe was expected later in the day to order the ruling coalition parties to launch policy talks next week on the proposed change in constitutional interpretation.

Whether New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, will bow to his demand and accept the policy change remains to be seen. But given Abe’s obvious determination and the LDP’s overwhelming strength at both chambers of the Diet, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito could eventually strike a compromise that would allow the Cabinet to lift the long-standing ban on exercising the right as early as this fall, before the next Diet session starts.

The right to collective self-defense allows a country to use military force — even though it is not under direct attack — to repel armed aggression against another country with which it has close relations.

The war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution has long been interpreted as prohibiting Japan from using this right, as it is considered exceeding the “minimum necessary” use of force for Japan to defend itself.

The panel’s position is a dramatic departure from the long-held official view. It’s report argues that there are some cases in which Japan’s use of collective self-defense would fall within the range of the “minimum necessary” use of force to defend Japanese people’s lives and property.

“Japan faces a situation where the previous constitutional interpretation won’t suffice for maintaining peace and stability in Japan as well as the regional and international communities, given the size and speed of changing strategic situations,” the report states.

Many people in Japan and abroad are concerned changing the constitutional interpretation would greatly expand Japan’s military operations overseas.

Abe’s reputation as a nationalist hawk has further fueled public concerns, while government officials have claimed they are considering restricting the use of the right to a limited range of scenarios, and it would not be used to allow Japan to join a large-scale war.

The panel, headed by former Ambassador to U.S. Shunji Yanai, argues that Japan should be allowed to use the right if “a foreign country that has close relations with our country” is attacked by a third country in a situation that could potentially have a “grave impact” on the safety of Japan.

The government should be allowed to use the right if such an attack could lead to a direct attack to Japan, critically damage the Japan-U.S. military alliance, considerably affect the international order, or remarkably damage the life and rights of the Japanese people, according to the report.

As a model case, the panel suggested that the government study whether Japan should be allowed to use the right of collective self-defense when a U.S. naval ship is attacked by a third country on the high seas.

Other hypothetical cases that should be examined include whether Japan should be allowed to inspect ships without consent of the captain or sweep mines in foreign waters when it could affect Japanese shipping, the panel said. These actions have been all considered “use of force” and banned under the current interpretation of the Constitution.

Apparently bidding to ease public concerns, the panel also proposed several conditions that should be met before exercising the right to collective self-defense.

These include using the right only when a country under attack specifically requests Japan’s support; only with Diet approval; and only with permission from other nations for the Self-Defense Forces to traverse their territories.

The report says Japan should be allowed to join U.N.-authorized military actions, such as those in the Persian Gulf War. However, Abe is likely to reject this idea, officials said.

If Abe succeeds in persuading New Komeito, the administration will submit the related bills during the extraordinary legislative session in the fall.

Getting New Komeito on board is expected to take a lot of hard work. The party is on the fence about changing Japan’s military posture in the name of collective self-defense.

“We need to decide if there are situations that would require Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense,” New Komeito President Natsuo Yamaguchi said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, conservatives say it is also crucial for Tokyo to show the U.S. that it is rectifying the “asymmetric” alliance by enabling Japan to play a bigger military role at a time when Japan is revising the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines for the first time in 17 years.