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Abe undermining rule of law

by Jiro Yamaguchi

A recent series of events has demonstrated the deterioration of Japan as a nation. At the root of the problem appears to be a bottomless nihilism on the part of those in power characterized by their thinking that the powers that be can ignore the rules and norms of society and polity.

On July 1, the Abe administration made a Cabinet decision to pave the way for Japan engaging in collective self-defense. This is an act that alters the foundation of Japan’s national security policies developed over the past 60 years, and an outrageous move that way oversteps the power of a single Cabinet.

How vague and sloppy the decision itself is was illustrated by the Budget Committee debates in both chambers of the Diet held two weeks later.

New Komeito, the junior coalition partner to Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, claims to have put a brake on Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense. It insists that the nation’s traditional defense posture remains intact on the grounds that the Self-Defense Forces would be mobilized only when it is clear that an armed attack on another country with which Japan has close ties causes the same damage as a direct attack on Japan.

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argues that the SDF can be deployed on a minesweeping mission in the Persian Gulf, saying that Japan’s national security would be directly affected if a Middle East conflict cuts off crude oil supplies to Japan.

If the SDF can be dispatched in order to secure natural resources, it then means that the SDF can be dispatched anywhere in the world.

Therefore, the new conditions for the use of force overseas set under the LDP-New Komeito agreement will never serve as an effective brake on Japan’s military actions overseas.

Questions and answers in the Diet showed that the text of the Cabinet decision allows different people to interpret it in their own way.

If so, the norms set by the Cabinet over Japan engaging in collective self-defense will be meaningless. In the first place, Abe does not have the idea that government leaders must exercise their power in accordance with rules that are set down in words.

In his attempt to criticize China, Abe often boasts that Japan shares the Western value of the rule of law. But his actions imply that he does not understand the very concept of the rule of law.

If the content of norms and rules of a nation can be freely changed by those who interpret them, the nation is no longer under the rule of law; it’s under the rule of man.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulation Authority screened Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in accordance with the NRA’s plant design standards updated in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and announced that the Sendai plant has cleared the screening. Thus the NRA has paved the way for restarting the idled plant.

At the same time, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said NRA cannot determine whether the plant is safe to restart. The NRA chief insists its screening standards are not safety standards.

Yet, the Abe administration, which had repeatedly said it would reactivate nuclear power plants that have cleared “the safety standards,” is expected to push for a quick restart of the Sendai plant. The government says that NRA screening has confirmed the safety of the Sendai plant.

As with the issue of the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, each of the people involved in the nuclear power policy is allowed to interpret the rules in his or her own way.

All these events demonstrate that people in power in this country — in particular Abe — do not recognize that they are bound by rules. They defiantly argue that even if certain things are prohibited under rules, they can do them simply by first changing the interpretation of the rules. Or, if they cannot win a game, they think that it’s because the rules and the referee are wrong. They then think that if the referee is replaced, things will be all right.

The most important question is no longer whether each of Abe’s policies is good or bad, but rather whether we are going to condone the prime minister’s basic attitude that negates the common sense of a modern state and will lead to turning Japan into a barbaric nation.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.

  • phu

    “In the first place, Abe does not have the idea that government leaders must exercise their power in accordance with rules that are set down in words.”

    I disagree. I think Abe, in this case, does indeed let words define his power; it’s the spirit of the words he ignores, and because the words he’s attacking were fairly vague in the first place (as are the ones he’s adding, conveniently), exercising his power according to the words in the rules — as opposed to the rules in the words — is exactly what he’s doing.

    “If the content of norms and rules of a nation can be freely changed by those who interpret them, the nation is no longer under the rule of law; it’s under the rule of man.”

    It seems a bit naive for a polisci professor to suggest that such idealism as the “rule of law” and the “rule of man” are somehow divisbile, or that any nation anywhere is under the former without the latter. Politicians are not computers; they are people. They have varying and sometimes contradictory mandates, varying levels of commitment to varying ideals, and even varying ideas about what exactly the discharging of their offices entails or requires.

    This is not to say I disagree with the fundamental assertion that power is being abused here, but it’s not being abused in a way that’s any different than what the US Congress is currently attempting to sue Obama over: Exceeding the authority with which a given public servant has, from a specific point of view, been entrusted. Neither situation is anything particularly new or awful, it’s just the forward motion of the status quo in both nations, the unsurprising consequences of too many greased palms, too much partisan politics, too little interest in their nations’ best interests, and plenty of other, similar issues that have been brewing for generations.

    “All these events demonstrate that people in power in this country — in particular Abe — do not recognize that they are bound by rules. They defiantly argue that even if certain things are prohibited under rules, they can do them simply by first changing the interpretation of the rules. Or, if they cannot win a game, they think that it’s because the rules and the referee are wrong. They then think that if the referee is replaced, things will be all right.”

    Again, while agreeing with the sentiment, I take issue with the idea that the people involved don’t understand that they’re (supposed to be) bound by rules. They simply don’t care. Rather than seeing the existing rules as guidelines established for the public good, they look at them as hindrances to their own goals; it’s not that they fail to understand that their powers are limited, it’s that they care more about their own influence and initiatives than they do about the checks and balances that are supposed to govern their roles.

    Abe replaced the referee when he wanted the BoJ to start his program of artificial inflation; it worked in that he got what he wanted. Rewarding a behavior encourages it, and Abe’s bad behaviors certainly haven’t been punished, so why should we expect anything else from him at this point?

    “The most important question is no longer whether each of Abe’s policies is good or bad, but rather whether we are going to condone the prime minister’s basic attitude that negates the common sense of a modern state and will lead to turning Japan into a barbaric nation.”

    The answer is “yes” in that enough Japanese people — as long as Abe is in power — will continue to implicitly condone his practices, in part because too few oppose him, in part because he’s making it much harder for people to be informed and to express dissent in a meaningful way, and in perhaps the largest part because the people hardly matter any more. Just as in the US, the will of the people has been subverted; Japan is governed by the will of the LDP (while the US is currently governed by no one). It will be the same no matter who is in power; provided he has majority party support, he’ll likely do whatever he can to further his own agenda.

    The most important question, at that point, becomes this: Does his agenda work for the nation or for himself?

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    A bit of pot…kettle…from the author. Hard to believe anyone can criticise another (Abe) for nihilism, and then speak of “ignore the rules and norms of society and polity”. Great to have the mob on your side. No nihilism there.