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Article 9 ball in New Komeito’s court as Abe rushes collective defense talks

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday suggested a new set of standards for Japan to use in national defense during the sixth round of talks on the issue with coalition partner New Komeito.

The principles would enable the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense in largely any circumstance, whether under direct attack or not, a move that would fundamentally alter Japan’s defense-oriented posture.

Yet it is unclear if the coalition can reach agreement before the Diet closes on June 22. That is what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is using to pressure the discussion, though he has also reportedly said he is in no rush.

New Komeito has not reached a consensus on collective self-defense, nor an accord on the new proposal.

LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, who chairs the coalition talks, unveiled the three new standards.

One would loosen the current restriction by declaring that war-renouncing Article 9 allows Japan to resort to force when attacks on other countries pose an existential threat to the nation itself, and when the lives of the Japanese people and the constitutional right to pursuit of liberty and happiness could be at risk.

The two other standards say Japan can resort to force if the country has no way to eliminate the threat and protect these rights, and that only the minimum force needed for a counterattack should be used.

All three requirements must be met before use of force is permitted.

The Komura proposal goes significantly beyond the current standard, as it includes attacks on other countries as one of the norms, a significant change from present practices. The current standard says Japan can only use force when there is an imminent and illegitimate act of aggression, and when there is no appropriate means to repel the aggression, other than the use of right to self-defense, and that the actions should be the minimum needed to repel the threat.

Even though the principles discussed do not comprise the draft for Cabinet approval, Komura said the criteria should be in that statement. “If both parties can agree on this notion, we will have the government include exactly the same idea in the statement for Cabinet approval,” he said.

Yet New Komeito executives said both parties are far from agreeing on the content of the Cabinet decision.

“We have not even started discussing the eight scenarios on collective self-defense,” New Komeito Vice President Kazuo Kitagawa noted. “We will consider the new suggestion within the party and we will carefully consider the timing for the Cabinet approval.”

In fact, New Komeito could only discuss some of the collective self-defense scenarios but could not touch the Komura proposal at a meeting later Friday, possibly delaying the schedule for a coalition agreement. The party and the coalition camp will not have formal meetings on this until next Tuesday, only five days before the end of the Diet session.

The new LDP suggestion is based on the 1972 government view that Article 9 allows Japan to take necessary defensive actions to maintain peace and security based on the preamble of the Constitution, which stipulates the right to live in peace, and Article 13, which guarantees the right to pursue happiness.

The LDP made such a proposal in an apparent effort to level the ground with New Komeito, which started to consider how to strike a concession on this issue based on the 1972 government view shown by then-Cabinet of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. New Komeito, supported by lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, reportedly considers this view would restrict the kind of operations that the SDF can conduct.

However, the 1972 view fundamentally bans Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense and previous governments have upheld the notion.

Neither the LDP nor New Komeito has fully explained how Japan can exercise the contentious right based on the government notion that prohibited Japan from defending other nations, even though both parties emphasize the importance of legal continuity and the logic of the Constitution and government views.