New Komeito shouldn’t cave in

The Abe administration on Tuesday presented to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito a draft for a Cabinet decision that will reinterpret Article 9 of the Constitution to enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense. New Komeito reportedly plans to demand that the administration further narrow down the conditions under which Japan can engage in military missions abroad even if Japan itself is not being attacked.

But the junior coalition partner to the LDP should realize that once the government declares that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense, it will be practically impossible to put limits to the scope of the nation’s military activities outside its territory. It will mark a clear departure from Japan’s postwar “defense only” posture. In addition, the wording of the draft is such that it leaves room for future administrations to interpret it in any way they want to justify Japan’s involvement in overseas conflicts.

The core part of the draft says that Japan will act in self defense if an armed attack either on Japan or other countries is feared to threaten the existence of the Japanese state and to fundamentally endanger the Japanese people’s lives and right to pursue freedom and happiness. It also says that self-defense measures it takes in the event that other countries are attacked constitutes exercising of the right to collective self-defense. New Komeito is said to be calling for omitting the phrase “is feared to” because it thinks it will enable future prime ministers to make any judgment they want concerning a situation taking place outside Japan.

But the party misses the point. Whether to exclude such a phrase is merely a rhetorical question. It would still be future prime ministers who determine whether military situations abroad threaten Japan and decide how Tokyo should respond.

The Abe administration’s draft partially borrows expressions used in a 1972 view on Japan’s defense posture adopted by the administration of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. But the 1972 view concluded that although Japan can take a minimum necessary self-defense measures to cope with an exigent and unjust situation in which an armed attack by another country fundamentally endangers the Japanese people’s lives and right to pursue freedom and happiness, the Constitution does not allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense “which in substance means blocking an armed attack on another country.” Successive administrations led by the LDP adhered to this view and in 1981, the Suzuki administration officially adopted the view with a Cabinet endorsement.

New Komeito needs to ask how it is possible for the Abe administration to abandon the 1972 view’s conclusion that Japan cannot engage in collective self-defense when Article 9 of the Constitution says that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” and that “The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

New Komeito should realize that if it accepts the Abe administration’s draft, it will be facilitating the prime minister’s effort to scrap the war-renouncing Article 9 without following the constitutional procedure for revising the supreme law. New Komeito’s most important party ideal — pacifism — is being tested. It should not yield on this critical issue.