Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday reiterated his administration’s position that the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution on its own gives Japan the right to collective self-defense.

It’s not necessary to amend the Constitution for Japan to engage in collective self-defense, Abe told lawmakers at the Upper House Budget Committee.

The right to use the Self-Defense Forces to defend allies and friendly nations that come under attack is a central pillar of Abe’s “proactive pacifism.” The prime minister asserts that Japan is at a disadvantage if forbidden to exercise this right at a time when it is being asked to play a more active role in maintaining global security.

On this issue Abe is at odds with the previous government and constitutional experts who say the charter must be amended before Japan can militarily defend other nations.

The pacifist Constitution stipulates that the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation. And the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which checks the legality of the law and the Constitution, has long interpreted Article 9 as prohibiting Japan from defending other nations.

Abe’s reaffirmation came just a day after a government panel wrapped up its study of the right. The 14-member panel, headed by former Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai, is slated to release its report in April.

“Japan is insufficiently prepared for national security threats in the region,” Abe said at the panel’s meeting on Tuesday. “We must cover all the bases to protect the people’s lives and safety in all possible scenarios.”

Abe and other supporters of reinterpretation say Japan’s current self-defense-only policy can’t meet the challenges of an increasingly complex regional security environment. A common argument is that the SDF must be able to respond to a possible call to fight alongside allies engaged in international peacekeeping missions, even if they have no direct bearing on Japan.

The right to collective self-defense was first taken up by Abe when he was prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

In 2008, a panel report concluded Japan could defend U.S. military ships on the high seas and that the SDF could intercept missiles threatening the U.S. The report also concluded the SDF could use arms to defend foreign peacekeeping troops and provide logistic support for non-Japanese forces in the battlefield.

The latest report is expected to urge the government to relax restrictions on arms exports, participate more actively in U.N.-led security operations and prepare a legal framework for the SDF to counter intrusions on remote islands, including the Senkakus, claimed by China. It will likely also stress the importance of strengthening defense ties with allies.

Information from AP added

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