National / Politics

Government defends security legislation after experts assail it as unconstitutional

Kyodo

The Abe government countered on Wednesday an assessment by three respected scholars that two security bills it has tabled are unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, one opposition lawmaker heaped further criticism on the government, likening the legislation to a “coup” against the nation’s legal foundations.

In its defense, the government’s chief spokesman said the bills meet the approval of the nation’s top court.

“The Supreme Court is the keeper of the Constitution. We have submitted the legislation based on its ruling,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a special committee session in the Lower House.

Suga also named three constitutional scholars, including Akira Momochi, professor at Nihon University, who have called the security bills constitutional.

Exercising the right of collective self-defense “is limited to cases when there is a clear threat to the nation and that is permitted under Article 9 of the Constitution,” said Yusuke Yokobatake, chief of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

But Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a lawmaker with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said the government should withdraw the bills because of their unconstitutionality.

“The legislation is not only against the Constitution, it is also like a coup against Japan as a constitutional government,” Tsujimoto said.

The Diet deliberation was held after the government handed out documents Tuesday to the opposition bloc to explain why it believes the legislation is constitutional.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has rejected the views presented last week in the Diet by the experts, including one recommended by his own party. Abe argues that stringent rules will be set for expanded operations by the SDF.

The legislation “is logically consistent with the government’s past interpretation of the Constitution and maintains legal stability,” the Abe government said in one of two documents submitted to the opposition bloc.

The DPJ, the main opposition force, had urged the government to present its views on the security bills in writing after three noted Japanese scholars, including one supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, raised doubts last week about the constitutionality of the planned legislation during a Diet session on the matter.

Akira Nagatsuma, acting president of the DPJ, told reporters the government’s latest documents only repeated its earlier explanations.

“It is hard to say (the legislation) is constitutional unless they provide a persuasive explanation,” he said.

Abe said Monday there was “no change at all” in the basic logic used to interpret the Constitution, defending the bills that his administration hopes to pass during the current Diet session.

“Under the world’s strictest conditions on the use of force, Japan will exercise (the right of collective self-defense) in a restrained manner,” Abe told a press conference after the two-day Group of Seven summit in Germany.

The Diet is deliberating on the bills that, if passed, would enable Japan to defend allies under armed attack even when Japan itself is not attacked, and enhance its logistical support and peacekeeping operations abroad.

As the security environment surrounding Japan has “fundamentally changed,” Japan can “take its minimum measures of self-defense necessary to defend our country,” the government said in one of the documents on the legislation.

The legislative work follows a contentious Cabinet decision last July to reinterpret the Constitution to broaden the notion of self-defense. Japan had long maintained that it possesses the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it as the Constitution allows the use of force only to defend Japan.

Under the proposed legislation, Japan would be able to use force if three requirements were met, including an armed attack on a foreign country threatening Japan’s survival and posing a clear danger to the people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Among the experts, Waseda University professor Yasuo Hasebe criticized the government for leaving open how much Japan could use force, when he spoke to the Diet committee session.

The government said it has “no choice but to use abstract expressions to a certain extent” as the nature of the legislation is to protect Japan and its people under “all possible scenarios” without undermining its pacifist stance.

Under the U.S.-drafted Constitution, Japan cannot use force to settle international disputes or assist the use of force by other countries.

The security legislation would allow the SDF to extend logistical support to foreign militaries in areas “currently not at war.”

Hasebe and other experts have criticized the bills as potentially hurting the spirit of the Constitution, but the government rejected the idea.

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