The Diet on Friday enacted a set of laws that defines the rules under which Japan can respond to attacks by a foreign enemy, a development with serious implications for Japan’s national security policy and its war-renouncing Constitution.

The legislation is the first of its kind since the end of World War II.

The government-sponsored war contingency bills, which give the government greater powers to deploy the Self-Defense Forces in the event of a military emergency, were approved by an overwhelming majority of 202-32 in the Upper House.

The bills, submitted to the Diet last year and carried over to the present session, were endorsed not only by the ruling coalition — which consists of the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Conservative Party and New Komeito — but also by two opposition forces, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party.

Only members of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party opposed the legislation, arguing it goes against the pacifist Constitution.

While the government says the legislation does not change Japan’s security policy, which strictly limits action to self-defense, opponents of the bills have argued that it marks a departure from the nation’s policy of pacifism.

The JCP and the SDP argued that the legislation could result in Japan becoming embroiled in military operations led by the United Sates, its main security ally. Outside the Diet, about 500 people carrying banners and flags staged a sit-in to protest the enactment of the laws.

But government leaders and ruling coalition officials hailed the vote.

“These laws have established a basic system to cope with emergency situations — the most important task of the national government,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in a written statement. “Enactment of the laws with broad support from both the ruling and opposition parties has great significance.”

By discarding a decades-old taboo and legally defining military contingencies, Koizumi is widely expected to move on to the next item on his agenda: a new law that would pave the way for Self-Defense Forces personnel to be dispatched to Iraq to take part in reconstruction work.

The package approved Friday consists of a law detailing Tokyo’s responses to armed attacks from abroad, plus amendments to the 1954 Self-Defense Forces Law and the law that established the security council under the prime minister.

Under the contingency law, the government will draft a plan of action when there is an attack against Japan or when the government determines that the danger of an attack is imminent. The plan, following Cabinet approval, must be endorsed by the Diet, according to the law.

In situations deemed particularly urgent, the government is empowered to mobilize the SDF before drawing up a plan but has to halt the deployment of forces if the eventual plan is rejected by the Diet.

The law also allows the government to put the SDF on standby when it determines that a military attack is “anticipated.”

The amendment to the SDF law enables military personnel to seize land and other property for operations and exempts the SDF from a range of peacetime legal procedures, such as those concerning road traffic, medical activities and constructing facilities for their use.

One focus of the Diet’s debates was protection of basic rights, which were violated by the national government during World War II.

Following marathon negotiations in the Lower House, the original bills were revised in accordance with a demand from the DPJ that provisions specifically seeking the protection of Constitutionally guaranteed human rights should be inserted.

The ruling bloc and the DPJ also agreed to attach a supplementary resolution calling for the enactment of another set of bills to protect the safety and rights of people in the event of an emergency within one year; the original deadline was two years.

The Defense Agency first embarked on a formal study of war contingency legislation in 1977. Efforts to transform the conclusions of the study into laws were put on hold by the government until two years ago, however, as drawing up rules for Japan to engage in war — even in self-defense — was a sensitive issue, both politically and among the public, because of the war-renouncing terms of the Constitution.

That sentiment changed with the heightened sense of uncertainty caused by North Korea’s development of missiles and its suspected nuclear weapons program, as well as the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

For Defense Agency and SDF officials, the enactment of the war contingency legislation appears to have come too late.

“I understand that this is just the beginning,” Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba told a regular news conference Friday morning after being asked about the expected enactment of the legislation.

He said there are still many tasks that remain to be completed, including enactment of the law to protect civilians’ lives and property and measures to facilitate U.S. forces’ operations in Japan to repulse armed attacks.

The key contingency law states that these, among other matters, should be prepared as soon as possible.

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