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Diet enacts security laws, marking Japan’s departure from pacifism

by Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writers

Following boisterous confrontations in the Diet and more than three days of public protest, the Upper House finally enacted two divisive security laws early Saturday that will mark a significant departure from Japan’s postwar pacifism.

Enacting the contentious laws was one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s long-held ambitions. His goal was to find a way to remove some of the key legal restrictions that the war-renouncing Constitution imposes on the Self-Defense Forces during overseas missions in order to strengthen Japan’s all-important military alliance with the United States.

Given the ruling coalition’s strength in both chambers of the Diet, the opposition camp was essentially powerless to stop him. It was thus reduced to obstructing the voting procedures and tapping public frustration with the legislation in hopes of rallying widespread resistance.

Abe’s team submitted the two bills to the Diet in May. Since then, more than 200 hours have been spent deliberating the legislation.

The Upper House’s final plenary session was called late Friday night as the opposition camp, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, delayed Diet procedures in protest by submitting no-confidence and censure motions against Abe’s Cabinet ministers in both chambers.

According to opinion polls, a majority of the public opposes the legislation and many think the government’s efforts to explain it fell short.

A poll by the daily Asahi Shimbun from Sept. 12 to 13 found that 54 percent of the 1,994 respondents oppose the bills and 29 percent support them.

One of them amends 10 existing security-related laws to lift various SDF restrictions, including Article 9’s long-standing ban on collective self-defense.

The other creates a new permanent law that allows Japan to deploy the SDF overseas to provide logistic support for United Nations-authorized military operations involving a foreign or multinational force.

Lifting the ban on collective self-defense, or the right to defend an ally under armed attack even if Japan itself is not, was long considered banned by war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. So instead of formally amending the Constitution, which was considered politically unfeasible, Abe simply had the government’s long-standing interpretation of Article 9 altered to allow collective defense.

Abe has argued that the Japan-U.S. alliance would be critically damaged if Tokyo refused to defend the U.S. during operations aimed at protecting Japan.

Under the Japan-U.S. security treaty, the U.S. is obliged to defend Japan in a contingency but Japan does not have to defend the U.S. Instead, Tokyo is obliged to grant Washington routine use of military bases in Japan.

Many voters fear the new laws could see Japan getting dragged into a war involving the U.S., given its traditionally heavy reliance on Washington’s diplomatic and military power.

They also fear the unprecedented move could render the Constitution toothless, since a majority of constitutional scholars believe the new laws violate Article 9.

Many security and diplomacy experts, however, praise the move as a reform, given the growing military might of China and America’s declining presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Under the new laws, Japan will theoretically be allowed to use collective self-defense to come to the aid of an ally — presumably the United States — under three conditions: if Japan’s “survival” is at stake, there is no alternative, and the use of force is kept to the “minimum necessary.”

The United Nations charter bestows this right to all member countries, including postwar Japan. But no major countries attach such strict conditions to its use, government officials have maintained.