Japan is set Tuesday to legalize waging war even when not under direct attack. It is a drastic departure from its postwar position that the war-renouncing Constitution prohibits exercising the right to collective self-defense.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet is set to approve a reinterpretation of the Constitution on Tuesday after Abe and his LDP on Monday cleared the biggest hurdle — opposition from pacifist New Komeito.
Even though some New Komeito lawmakers remain skeptical, on Monday they handed the reins to the party’s executives, who are likely to go along with their senior coalition partner at their 11th round of talks on Tuesday.
Also on Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeated the government’s position that it will seek Cabinet approval for a new defense policy on Tuesday.
“We are just standing at the start line. It will take time to draft actual legislation,” said New Komeito Vice President Kazuo Kitagawa on Monday after a party meeting. “We will make the best efforts to gain public understanding on this issue.”
Collective self-defense is an inherent right granted to member nations by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which allows members to come to the aid of an ally under military attack. But previous governments have maintained that Article 9 of the Constitution prohibits the actual exercising that right because it bans the use of force to settle international disputes, a position often criticized by the United States — which essentially drafted it — for limiting Japan’s contribution to the alliance.
The reinterpretation is likely to anger China and South Korea, which see Abe’s push for a more proactive role in global security as a resurgence of Japanese militarism.
New Komeito, which is backed by lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, has long argued that any security threats can be dealt with under the existing constitutional limits and related laws.
At a meeting of representatives from all New Komeito prefectural chapters Saturday, most of the members voiced their opposition to the move. But it wasn’t enough to prevent the party’s executives from declining to risk its partnership with the LDP by going against its leaders’ wishes.
In an apparent effort to appease New Komeito, the draft statement outlining the new interpretation, to take effect with Cabinet approval, avoids explicitly stating that the right can be exercised. Instead, it says that potential collective self-defense operations by the Self-Defense Forces could be regarded as legitimate under international law.
Abe’s government wants to expand Japan’s limited right to defend itself to include other countries by adjusting the three requirements that need to be cleared before resorting to force.
To defend an ally, the attack must pose a clear existential danger to Japan or undermine Japanese citizens’ constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Some fear the wording of the new standards won’t be enough to stop the SDF from becoming too easily embroiled in conflicts abroad.
New Komeito executives see the standards as putting a brake on the SDF, and coalition lawmakers say they will debate the issue at budgetary sessions in both chambers before an extraordinary Diet session in the fall.
But it is unclear how effective any brakes that the government will ultimately be free to interpret, will actually be.
The Japanese public is dubious. A Nikkei Shimbun poll over the weekend showed 50 percent oppose allowing Japan to exercise the right while 34 percent support it. In a shocking gesture on Sunday, a man set himself on fire near bustling Shinjuku Station in Tokyo protesting against Abe’s defense reforms.
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