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Komeito to LDP: Self-defense not same as collective defense

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito remain at odds as the ruling coalition debates the contentious proposal to revamp defense policy by reinterpreting the Constitution.

The biggest difference between is what to do with war-renouncing Article 9.

LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, who is chairing the talks, said the minimum use of force that Japan is allowed to use to defend itself under the Constitution should also include the right to engage in collective self-defense, or coming to the aide of an ally under armed attack.

New Komeito Vice President Kazuo Kitagawa disagrees.

“Komura emphasizes legal-theory aspects (in interpreting) Article 9, but we are not in tune yet . . . There needs to be legal consistency with the interpretation of the Constitution by past governments,” Kitagawa, deputy chairman of the coalition talks, said Tuesday at the Japan National Press Club.

Kitagawa also repeated New Komeito’s general position that most of the scenarios proposed by the prime minister’s handpicked security panel can be dealt with under the individual self-defense and policing authority already held by the Japan Coast Guard and the Self-Defense Forces.

“We have to paint realistic scenarios and we need to discuss if there exist any shortcomings in laws before deciding whether or not to reinterpret the Constitution,” Kitagawa said.

New Komeito, backed by the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, is especially concerned that there is no mechanism to prevent Japan from overusing the right to collective self-defense.

The report by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s handpicked panel on the issue proposed setting a condition that Japan should be able to wield the right only when its security is likely to be gravely harmed.

Gen Nakatani of the LDP said on a Tuesday television program that the Diet will serve as the brake on abuse, because the report calls for requiring Diet approval should Japan seek to come to the defense of other nations.

But Kitagawa said the checks proposed by the panel are insufficient.

On Tuesday, the coalition bloc formally agreed to first deal with how to counter so-called gray zone incidents that fall short of full-fledged military attacks, before moving on to the subject of upgrading Japan’s role in peacekeeping operations and whether to legalize the use of collective self-defense.

But the two parties differ even in terms of the approach they want to take in the discussions.

LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said the coalition must reach one agreement to cover all three areas in order to “seek Cabinet approval” by summer, implying the need to set a deadline on the divisive issue.

But Kigatawa said the coalition should have ample time to discuss all of the issues before reaching a separate agreement on each, before preparing bills aimed at rectifying loopholes in Japan’s defense posture, which would require much more time than the LDP may wish.

The parties also differ in terms of how crucial they believe the Article 9 issue is to Japan-U.S. defense cooperation. Abe has positioned the issue of collective self-defense as crucial to the Japan-U.S. alliance, especially since they are slated to revise guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation by the end of the year.

But Kitagawa said he believes what the United States wants Japan to do is provide more logistic support both in bilateral operations and peacekeeping operations, rather than collective self-defense.

Since enacting a peacekeeping law in 1992, Japan has provided logistics for such operations only under the strict condition that they do not directly involve the use of force and are limited to “non-combat zones.”