The ruling coalition came close to agreement Friday on three new standards under which the Self-Defense Forces could use force in circumstances other than when Japan is under direct attack.
Amid heated debate on whether the government, rather than the people, should reinterpret the pacifist Constitution, Japan is now a step closer to overhauling its defense-focused posture, with the Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito set to approve a draft statement that incorporates the three points, thus allowing Japan to enact collective self-defense. The concept has been taboo since Japan lost the war.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants his Cabinet to approve a final statement incorporating the new standards as early as next Tuesday.
Some public concern centers on whether the three new standards might allow the SDF to abuse the right to collective self-defense, which is banned by Article 9. However, New Komeito Vice President Kazuo Kitagawa said the standards would in fact serve as a brake.
“What the standards mean is that an attack on another country has to pose to Japan the same level of threat as that faced by Japan when it’s under direct attack, before Japan can use its force to defend that country,” Kitagawa said after the coalition partners met for their 10th round of talks.
The standards “will impose an effective limit on instances when the SDF can take military action,” he said.
The draft declares that Japan must meet all three standards before resorting to military force.
The first standard describes an attack on a nation with a very close relationship to Japan. The attack must pose a clear existential danger to Japan or undermines Japanese citizens’ constitutional rights to life and to pursue liberty and happiness.
The two other standards shackle the SDF by saying there has to be no other way to protect the nation in question and its citizens, and by saying that the use of military action should be kept to a bare minimum.
Although Abe has been calling for the inclusion of mine-sweeping operations as an activity allowed under collective self-defense, apparently reflecting his belief that Japan should be free to engage in such operations in the Strait of Hormuz, New Komeito has rejected the idea. Mine-sweeping is considered use of force under international law.
New Komeito’s Kitagawa explained that, according to the draft, mined sea lanes would not in themselves be considered a threat to the lives of the Japanese people as a whole, suggesting Japan would be unable to invoke collective self-defense in such operations. But the party has no reservations about mine-sweeping regarding Japan’s individual right to self-defense.
The virtual agreement between the coalition partners came a day after New Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi told NHK that Japan would be able to use collective self-defense when the threat from attacks on an ally poses an equal threat to Japan.
Yet, New Komeito remains reluctant to use the term “right to collective self-defense” when referring to the statement, apparently because Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist group from which the party draws much of its support, opposes Japan exercising the right, let alone revising war-renouncing Article 9.