Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday his administration will consider creating a permanent law allowing dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces overseas, a comment that could lead to a further rift between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito.
The move would allow the government to send the SDF on overseas missions by bypassing Diet debate and without having to re-enact special legislation each time.
“We’d like to consider in detail what form it should take, a permanent or special law. We need to have thorough consultations and coordinate with the ruling coalition,” Abe told the Upper House Budget Committee.
In a historic move, Abe’s Cabinet on July 1 reinterpreted the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the long-prohibited right to collective self-defense.
New Komeito had long been cautious about expanding the SDF’s role, but it eventually conceded and approved the reinterpretation of the Constitution to enable the use of the right to collective self-defense, allowing Japan to come to the aid of an ally under armed attack.
The Cabinet approval also expanded SDF activities in peacekeeping operations and scrapped the geographical restriction of so-called noncombat zones, allowing the SDF to engage in operations where actual combat is not taking place.
Despite the landmark decision on collective self-defense, the administration needs to prepare the legal groundwork to accommodate the change by revising more than 10 laws, including one on SDF operations. The permanent legislation will be one of the bills that Abe’s government plans to submit to the ordinary Diet session early next year.
The war-renouncing Article 9 and its defense-oriented posture have long limited SDF activities.
Even when the SDF has been sent overseas, their missions have been strictly limited to logistical support, and the government had to pass temporary legislation for each SDF mission sent abroad.
In 2001, the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi enacted laws that lasted for a limited period of time only, to enable the SDF to refuel U.S. military vessels taking part in the war in Afghanistan. The government also passed a similar temporary law in 2003 in order to dispatch SDF personnel to Iraq to engage in reconstruction efforts there.
Permanent legislation would allow the government to decide to dispatch the SDF at any time because it would no longer require enactment of temporary legislation.
The July 1 policy change on collective self-defense will be reflected in revised U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines due out by the end of the year, Abe said, after Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed on the plan in Washington on Friday.
On Tuesday, Japan and the United States held talks at the vice-ministerial level in Tokyo on a review of the defense cooperation guidelines, last revised in 1997. Onodera and Hagel confirmed that a mid-term progress report will be compiled as early as September.
Information from Kyodo added
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