Newly appointed Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani on Friday expressed opposition to reinterpreting the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to engage in collective defense.

Nakatani holds to the view that the Constitution prohibits collective defense — not using its forces to counter military aggression against its allies — which has long been the government’s position.

Such military action would be “beyond the minimum exercise of forces permitted by Article 9 of the Constitution,” said Nakatani, 43, the first Ground Self-Defense Force veteran to become head of the Defense Agency.

Nakatani said that, if Japan is to engage in collective defense, a revision of the Constitution will be needed.

He questioned the ambiguity of Article 9, which prohibits Japan from maintaining “land, sea, and air forces as well as other war potential.”

“We should have a Constitution that enables people to clearly understand what is needed for the nation and what is prohibited,” he said.

The defense chief faces another controversial issue in possible legislation on military action that is not covered by the SDF Law. According to Nakatani, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has instructed him to “study” the issue — something the agency has been doing since 1977 — but not push for legislation at the moment. Critics say such legislation would contradict the Constitution.

“People’s awareness has changed with times,” he said, adding that the world has also changed.

Nakatani also supports more opportunities for SDF troops to participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

“Japan would be thanked by other nations if the SDF can exercise its abilities by building bridges, repairing roads or distributing food in stable areas,” he said.

Under current law, SDF personnel can only provide logistic support to U.N. peacekeeping operations. The director general said that he will respect Diet discussions on lifting this restriction.

Nakatani spent four years at the National Defense Academy and served in the GSDF for 41/2 years, reaching the rank of first lieutenant. Some of his alumni at the academy are section heads of the SDF.

Although Nakatani has been welcomed to the job because of his familiarity with defense issues, some question the appointment of a former member of the military to the top defense job.

To this, Nakatani said, “My career as a politician is longer (than my military career).” He intends to lead the SDF from a civic viewpoint, he added. (T.A.)

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