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Decision on collective defense may be deferred

Kyodo

The government might leave judgment on whether to legalize Japan’s use of the right to collective self-defense to future debate and avoid mentioning plans to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution when the Cabinet revamps security policy later this month, sources said Monday.

The government is likely to state that the right to collective self-defense is allowed under international law and Japan will “study” how to exercise it, the government sources said.

The ruling coalition, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, has started discussions on reviewing Japan’s security framework, but the junior member, New Komeito, remains opposed to reinterpreting the Constitution to lift the long-standing ban on collective self-defense.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is LDP president, has expressed hope that the government will make a decision on the controversial issue in time for plans to revise the U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines by the end of the year.

Abe ordered senior government officials on Sunday to draft a statement that will turn into a Cabinet decision on collective self-defense, hoping to have it approved before the Diet closes on June 22.

The draft would call for a “seamless” legal structure to cope with the changing security environment around Japan and would be finalized after consultations with the ruling bloc, the sources said.

“We hope to wrap it up during the ongoing Diet session,” LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, who chairs the coalition talks on security, said on a TV program aired Sunday.

Komura also said that the term “the right to collective self-defense” should be specified in the Cabinet statement, adding he has urged the government to draw up guidelines for restraining the use of the right.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, indicated Monday the government will speed up the drafting process so the Cabinet can approve it if the ruling parties settle their differences.

Japan has maintained that it has the right to collective self-defense under international law but cannot exercise it due to the constraints of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, which bans the use of force to settle international disputes.

Past governments have said that exercising the right would go beyond “the minimum” level of self-defense allowed by the Constitution, but Abe is trying to alter that interpretation in time for the revision of the U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines.

The ruling parties reached a basic agreement during talks last Friday on a mechanism that would give the prime minister the authority to swiftly dispatch the SDF for “gray zone” incidents that fall short of full-fledged military attacks, but the issue of collective self-defense remains divisive within the ruling coalition.

Abe is trying to boost the SDF’s role abroad as a “proactive contributor to global peace,” but the pacifist Constitution imposes legal hurdles.

Even before the ruling parties start thorough debate on collective self-defense, opposition from New Komeito has forced the government to drop its earlier proposals and clarify its stance that the SDF cannot extend logistical support to foreign militaries in places defined as combat zones.

The LDP had earlier tried to banish the term “noncombat zone.”