Abe wins battle to broaden defense policy

Japan will not take offensive action, leader vows

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday authorized a reinterpretation of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, allowing Japan for the first time since World War II to come to the aid of an ally under attack.

The authorization marks a landmark shift in the postwar defense posture, which has prevented the country from waging wars on foreign soil.

Nevertheless, administration officials say the new policy emphasizes that Japan remains defense-oriented and will follow the path of a peaceful country, seeking to resolve conflicts through diplomatic means.

But the reinterpretation is certain to anger China and South Korea, which see it as a sign of resurgent Japanese militarism.

Abe offered reassurances that Japan will not launch a war against other countries and not become embroiled in warfare waged by other countries.

“We will not resort to the use of force (solely) with the aim of defending other countries,” Abe told a news conference following the Cabinet meeting to authorize the move. “By being fully prepared to deal with any situation, Japan can foil any attempt to wage war against Japan.”

Even though collective self-defense is an inherent right granted to member nations by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, previous governments maintained that the Constitution forbids the use of force in all cases except when the nation comes under direct attack.

To fend off criticism for changing the defense posture without holding a national referendum to revise the Constitution, the Abe administration has broadened the definition of self-defense to include the defense of allies.

The administration has introduced three new conditions by which Japan can resort to force under the banner of preserving the nation’s survival and the lives and rights of its people.

According to the new conditions, Japan can come to the aid of a friendly nation if:

The attack on that country poses a clear danger to Japan’s survival or could fundamentally overturn Japanese citizens’ constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is no other way of repelling the attack and protecting Japan and its citizens.

The use of force is limited to the minimum necessary.

Pacifist coalition member New Komeito, which is backed by the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, still advocates not exercising the right to collective self-defense. For this reason, the statement approved Tuesday avoids clearly stating Japan can exercise the right. Instead, it asserts that some of the newly permitted actions could be perceived as exercising the right to collective self-defense under international law.

“This is about defending Japan, not about defending other countries,” New Komeito Vice President Kazuo Kitagawa said. “Collective self-defense under international law means defending other countries without considering if that would infringe on one’s own security, but we see this as part of the self-defense of Japan.”

Abe has given assurances that Japan will not join military operations by coalition forces authorized by the U.N., such as the Gulf War. However, this runs counter to the recommendation of his own handpicked panel, which recommended in its defense report in May that Japan should take part in such operations.

For all Abe’s assurances, the public is fearful that the conditions by which Japan might be perceived as under threat will end up giving the government a free hand to expand Self-Defense Forces involvement abroad.

But the two ruling parties counter that the conditions cannot be interpreted overly loosely.

“We have applied the brakes sufficiently to prevent Japan from doing what Abe said Japan will not do, even in the future,” said LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura.

Yet the two parties appear to differ on what constitutes a clear danger to Japan.

Abe is eager for Japan to join international minesweeping operations in the Strait of Hormuz to help secure sea lanes used by 80 percent of the tankers that deliver oil to Japan. New Komeito executives, on the other hand, argue action taken so far away from Japan is not easy to justify as protecting the nation from clear danger.

For its part, the U.S., which has called on Japan to assume a greater security role amid sharp cuts in its own defense budget, is likely to hail Abe’s initiative. The two countries will revise by the end of the year their guidelines for defense cooperation, which will be the first revision in 17 years.

Abe wants the new guidelines to reflect his updated defense strategy, giving Japan a bigger role in any regional contingencies, namely on the Korean Peninsula. The SDF could also be authorized to defend American warships on the high seas or shoot down missiles heading for U.S. territory.

The ruling coalition still must hold talks on necessary legislation. The administration will have to submit bills to revise related laws such as the Self-Defense Law and the Japan Coast Guard Law to accommodate the changes at an extraordinary Diet sessions in the fall.

  • junia

    Thanks for the article. Reading the issue in English help me to think it in the international contexts in which the discussion is abundant. The history showed, since 1945, the Collective Self-Defence right, sanctioned by the Art. 51 of the UN Charter, and the UN system itself is a big question, blocked by the vetoes of the one or another Super Powers. But I believe the spirit of one of its principle is still valid: the solution of international controversies without the use of the force (Artt. 2 and 4). They agreed, in 1945, after decades of tragec wars. With its pacifist constitution, Japan has concentrated on its economic growth and soon gained a position of OECD and G7 countries.
    I learned from the Japanese papers that Abe is following the cold-war logic of the “deterrence”, peace can only be guaranteed by the balance of the power. The Power Politics. A Cold War between Japan and China? Will we be in a more peaceful condition?.. or in a farther tention? A year before the Japanese government was promoting TPP negotiations. A more closer commercial relationship could have help also a peaceful coesistence of the countries. I referred the movement to the initial spirit of the European Community in 1950.
    Abe’s ratest decisions reminds me of those of the ex Pres. Bush Jr. who has been paying more attention on the security problems, on the eminent danger provoked by its “enemies”. Then it followed by the administration’s “Unilateral” use of the armed forces on the basis of his original principle of the Preventive Anticipatory Self-Defence..

    • Demosthenes

      “A Cold War between Japan and China? Will we be in a more peaceful condition?.. or in a farther tention?” – From everything that I can see I think the latter is the only likely outcome here. I say that, within five years, Japan will definitely be a less safe place to live and will be suffering far worse, economically, than what it is now. I hope the ultra-nationalists enjoy their time in the sun while it lasts, because they’re going to get what they’re wishing for.

  • steve

    Look people China is a threat to Japan and all the rest of Asia. All this reinterpretation does is allow Japan to better protect not only itself but the vessels of its partners in the region such as the US. I have no idea why people think this reinterpretation could lead to problems China because guess what people you have problems with China wether you want them or not.

  • italo mate

    from the title of this article it is safe to assume that japan times is without doubt on the side of abe shinzo and other warmongers since it depicts the tragic moment of japanese nation-state as a victory. it seems almost impossible to find some neutral journalism from japan.

  • Daniel Francis

    Something suspicious about Japan saying it will remain defense-oriented when it is in alliance with NATO which has no qualms about “waging wars on foreign soil”.

  • Stephen Kent

    I think it’s now abundantly clear what Abe’s real intentions and strategy have been all along; to get elected on a platform of economic growth and then use his resultant popularity to revise the constitution and implement his own vision for a re-militarized Japan, thus making it “normal”. But when it turned out that he had actually been elected (with a low voter turn out I believe) based on his economic plans and didn’t in fact have support for his constitutional tampering he decided to commission specialist advisory committees to tell him what he told them to tell him, and then revised the government’s interpretation of the constitution using vague ‘conditions’ to decide whether the government is allowed to use force (the last one of which doesn’t even make sense; it’s a statement not a condition – whether you use the minimum level of force or not to achieve your goal is a matter of policy, not a condition for evaluating a situation, so there are only really two vague conditions). In a way I suppose you could argue he never tried to conceal his intentions since he always said he wanted to “restore Japan”. It just turns out that he meant he wanted to restore it to a pre-war authoritarian militarized country.

    To me it now seems he is just completely ignoring the reality of the country he lives in. Japan is has a rapidly aging population and a shrinking workforce, its capital city is overdue for a massive earthquake, and it is totally dependent on the outside world for its energy. Can any of these problems be solved militarily? It wouldn’t seem so. If he wants to be increasing security for the citizens of Japan, rather than mine-sweeping in the Straits of Hormuz surely he should be doing things like ensuring massive investments are made in renewable energy, distributing government functions around the country to mitigate the effects of the earthquake in Tokyo when it comes, enacting laws to stop energy from being wasted (with regards to building standards etc.), and encouraging discussion about whether foreign workers should be let into the country to boost the workforce.

    I suppose it’s true that the Chinese government are causing security concerns in the region, but if it ever did come down to China attacking Japan then the previous interpretation of the constitution would have covered that situation, including the Senkaku Islands.

    Well done Mr. Abe, it appears you’ve eventually succeeded in your ambition to reduce the level of security enjoyed by the people of Japan in the name of “defence”. I hope you’re pleased with yourself.

    • steve

      Actually without this reinterpretation US ships in the region could have been targeted and destroyed right next to Japanese ships and the Japanese legaly would not have been able to fire back and assist American ships. This could have left Japan in a position were before they were legally allowed to engage Chinese forces the forces of their American allies had already been forced out of the AO. Something I think most people would find rediculaious and dangerous to Japan.

      • Stephen Kent

        It seems really reasonable on the surface right? But you have to ask under what circumstances Abe’s scenarios would actually become reality. The cold war, Korean war, and Vietnam war passed without the Americans needing defence from the Japanese military so I’m not sure under what conditions a defenceless US vessel would come under attack from China.

      • steve

        I did not mean a defensless US vessel but do you have any idea how many long range anti-ship missiles China has as part of its area denial defenses along its coast line. Additionally if China was going to start a war with Japan the first logical step would be to push the US out using its long range missiles. Then there arises what would likely be a month long period with little US naval support for Japan as we have to surge reinforcements from other theaters or their home ports in Hawaii or California. Finally ask yourself which seems more likely in the next two decades China starting a war agianst its kuch smaller neighborhs such as Japan or Japan attacking another country in a war its populace and the US would not support.

      • Stephen Kent

        There is no way China is going to start a war with Japan on a whim, it’s just not going to happen. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on military strategy or the capabilities of the countries involved, but from what I understand the Chinese navy is by far outclassed by the both the US and Japanese navies so they wouldn’t really be able to win in an open water battle. And if they did start launching long range missiles from their coastline at US ships then it would surely just be an open invitation for the US military to bomb the defences on the Chinese coastline with cruise missiles.

        What this reinterpretation has done is give China an excuse to spend more money on its own military and justify their claim that Japan is still run by militarists (check out the editorial in the Global Times – they probably had it written months in advance). As you say, there is virtually no chance at the moment that Japan would attack another country in a war that the US didn’t support, but there is a much higher chance of Japan being dragged into a US-approved war (and America does like a war now and again). What it hasn’t done is increase the security of the citizens of Japan (just as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t increased security in America).

  • http://blog.goo.ne.jp/srachai srachai

    Things seem to be going well with the intention of Prime Minister Abe.
    This may be a historical turning point of Constitutional revision.
    China and Korea don’t like it, we know.
    Next step is to revise related laws to accommodate the changes at an extraordinary Diet sessions in this fall.
    As for Constitutional revision, it’ll take much more time than this time when Abe will succeed in broadening defense policy.

  • tiger

    China condemns this decision – but secretly, China’s happy that Japan is stepping out from the Americans’ shadows.

  • qwerty

    the komeito party is a big fat loser – it at least had the protest vote – it lost it

  • preventallwarsdotorg

    Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe will eventually have his way.
    And when subsequent wars are initiated, by him or any other leaders, he (and his loved ones) will be protected by the state. His persistence for a more bellicose Japan is therefore understandable.
    (All wars would be spontaneously prevented if national political leaders are guaranteed to be their first casualties.)

    With Japan’s ‘military preparedness’, one can sense widening conflicts between Japan and China becoming reality – much sooner than later. Other South Pacific national leaders, then those of NATO and possibly Russia, will then become more involved militarily in those disputes over the tiny South Pacific islands.

    But there is now the unspoken reality that all wars, these days, are rapidly becoming ‘un-winnable’ and ultimately futile for even the military superpowers – as those in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, etcetera, confirm.

    Why then does the world continue with its failed tradition of relying on national political leaders or their sponsored organizations as the UN to prevent war?

    Also, national political leaders’ have divergent interests at peace conferences; are also uniquely empowered to create wars -almost at will: and the continued reliance on them and their agents to procure war prevention or stop them after they are initiated, have been proven time and time again to be unhelpful and very dangerous. The wars simply continue.
    Yet, the world keeps on relying on them for war prevention!

    For a change, can’t such reputable papers as the Washington Post and ‘the experts’ become more focused outside that proverbial box of the ‘accepted world wisdom of wars’ inevitability (a myth)’ and rather start fostering brand new and efficient global war-preventive mechanisms that would actually prevent war, especially now – with the on-going digital information technologies revolution.

    This is a far more profitable and very feasible alternative; rather than the world’s continual tolerance of wars.