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Panel lists steps for bypassing Article 9

Security team proposes conditions for legalizing collective defense

by Ayako Mie and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s advisory panel on security Thursday released a much-awaited report that pushes for changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to legalize the use of collective self-defense.

Later in the day, Abe ordered the ruling coalition to begin policy talks next week on the proposed change.

Whether New Komeito, the junior partner in the coalition with Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, will bow to his demand and accept the proposal remains to be seen. But given his obvious determination and the LDP’s overwhelming strength in both chambers of the Diet, Buddhist-backed New Komeito might 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 if not under direct attack — to help an ally under armed attack.

War-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution has long been interpreted as prohibiting Japan from using this right because it limits Japan to the “minimum necessary” use of force in defending just itself.

The panel’s position is a dramatic departure from the government’s long-held view. The report argues that there are some cases in which Japan’s use of collective self-defense to protect an ally would fall within the range of the “minimum necessary” use of force for protecting Japanese 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 that changing the government’s interpretation of the supreme code would greatly expand Japan’s military risks and 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 making sure it would not be used to join a large-scale war.

The panel, headed by former Ambassador to the 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 board foreign 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 proposed several conditions that should be met before exercising collective self-defense.

These include using the right only when a country under attack specifically requests Japan’s support; only with Diet approval; and limits the Self-Defense Forces from entering foreign countries unless they have permission.

Abe outlined two types of missions the SDF is constitutionally prohibited from engaging in: It is not allowed to defend U.S. ships evacuating Japanese from a foreign country at war, and it cannot defend foreign troops or aid workers while engaged in U.N.-led peace-keeping operations abroad.

“Your son or grandson may be in that location. As the prime minister, I’m responsible for protecting their lives,” Abe said.

“Is it really OK that the Japanese government cannot do anything in such a situation?” Abe asked.

The report says Japan should be allowed to join U.N.-authorized military actions, such as those in the Persian Gulf War. However, Abe said the government will not adopt that proposal.

If Abe succeeds in persuading New Komeito to accept the proposals, Abe’s administration will submit the related bills during an 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.

“I believe the two scenarios that the prime minister illustrated in the press conference can be dealt with under the current constitutional interpretation,” New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said after Abe’s speech.

Yamaguchi also said the coalition will start discussions on how the SDF can more efficiently respond to so-called gray-zone scenarios, or armed incidents that fall short of full-scale military attacks. New Komeito feels those kinds of threats are more imminent and relevant than anything that might evoke the need for collective self-defense, given the regional security situation.

While tensions with China over the disputed Senkaku Islands have been ratcheted up, the report listed potential scenarios, including attempts by special units to occupy remote Japanese islands or relentless intrusions into Japanese waters by foreign submarines.

Among the most probable cases are a surprise landing on the Senkakus by Chinese soldiers disguised as fishermen, experts suggested, because the SDF apparently cannot respond militarily to such an act unless it is acknowledged as a military attack by a sovereign nation.

Similarly, the SDF cannot resort to the use of arms against submarines that defy orders to leave territorial waters unless the hostile actions are deemed as an armed attack by a sovereign nation.

Meanwhile, conservatives say it is also crucial for Tokyo to show the U.S. 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.


  • zer0_0zor0

    Abe and all of of his LDP cohorts pushing this policy are basically wannabe members of the US-military-industrial-complex class. That is to say, they have nothing to contribute to society, so creating a threat before the public and then posturing so as to address that threat is the only semblance of political import they can muster.

    The people of Japan need to start learning more about the modern history of their country and the role played in it by the forebears of Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe.

  • http://www.reginald-gruenenberg.de/ Reginald Grünenberg

    Incredible that a mortifying weakling like Abe, who wouldn’t do five push-ups and was literally chased away from his first term as prime minister, officially resigning for indigestions, is now calling Japan to embrace its old folly of pre-war-madness. My father would have said “No pubic hair but jostling in the brothel”.

  • itoshima2012

    A lot can be said about this but I think there’s nothing basically wrong in changing a constitution that was written by the US over 50 years ago. I mean, all countries in this world have their right to collective self defense why shouldn’t Japan have it? The Status Quo is surely not “normal”. All those people screaming “here we go again Japan wants to prepare for war” are missing totally the point and exaggerating. Japan needs to normalize its defense policy quickly. I’m ceratinly not a supporter of Mr Abe but the status quo in defense is very dangerous. Japan should change swiftly its constitution and move on to become a normal country. China want accept a weak neighbor.

    • 151E

      Why be a “normal” country when you can instead be an outstanding exemplar to other nations? The renouncing of belligerence as a means of settling international disputes is a truly fine and nobel thing, regardless of provenance. And while Japan maintains significant war potential (in complete and blatant disregard of the first clause of the second paragraph of Article 9), other more progressive nations such as Costa Rica and Iceland have disbanded their militaries, and yet still retain their sovereignty and independence. What is more, the biggest strategic threat to Japan is not military in nature but climatic disruption of global food production and trade, to which this nation is acutely vulnerable.

      • itoshima2012

        I would agree with you but you can’t compare the geopolitical threats of Iceland and Costa Rica to the ones facing Japan. Japan needs to become a normal country fast, as it stands now it can’t even refuel airplanes of its allies….

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