Diet has finally begun debating the enabling bills for the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, almost a year after the government sent them to the legislature last April. How the debate will develop in the weeks ahead has an important bearing on the security environment of Asia, including the Korean Peninsula.

The government wants to get the bills through the Lower House before Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visits the United States from late April to early May.

The package consists of bills that would (1) provide logistic support to U.S. forces during contingencies in areas surrounding Japan, (2) amend the Self-Defense Forces Law to evacuate Japanese nationals overseas aboard SDF ships, and (3) update the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to meet such contingencies.

The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party are dead set against the bills, while the Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito are calling for revisions. The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a minority in the Upper House, are poised to accept certain changes. The focal point of concern is what specific changes will be made by an ad hoc Lower House committee on the guidelines.

The guidelines bills, however, represent only a part of the larger security picture. After their passage, Japan will need to address a host of other issues that will affect not only the defense of Japan but also the security of the Asia-Pacific region in the 21st century. These include new legislation to meet a security crisis involving Japan itself and joint Japanese-U.S. research on a theater missile defense system, which is opposed by China and Russia.

The debate so far indicates that revision is likely on at least three points. The first point concerns the scope of SDF activity in contingencies. The DPJ and New Komeito are demanding that “the surrounding-situation bill” explicitly state that SDF activities will be limited “within the framework of the Japan-U.S. security treaty.” The two parties believe the wording makes fairly clear the geographic extent of “situations in areas surrounding Japan.”

The government, on the other hand, believes it is unnecessary to insert the phrase. Obuchi noted that the bill says logistic support will be provided to U.S. forces engaged in activities aimed at achieving the objectives of the security treaty.

The second likely point of revision involves the role of the Diet. The government bill says that in the event of a crisis in a surrounding area a basic program of logistic support will be recommended to the Diet. But the DPJ and New Komeito say the program should, in principle, be approved by the Diet in advance. In an unforeseen emergency, they say, it may be approved ex post facto.

The U.S. reportedly believes it is unrealistic to seek Diet approval in an emergency. In my view, however, such approval is essential precisely because a military crisis in an area around Japan would materially affect the safety and peace of Japan.

The third point is whether SDF inspection of foreign ships on the open seas should be based on U.N. Security Council resolutions. The bill says such U.N. endorsements are required. But the Liberal Party, the partner in the ruling coalition, is calling for the deletion of this requirement on the grounds that China and Russia could veto Security Council resolutions in the event of a contingency in the Korean Peninsula.

Still another point under debate concerns what specific forms of cooperation local governments and private organizations would be required to provide during security emergencies in areas around Japan. The bill says such cooperation would include use of facilities like harbors, airports and hospitals and transportation of supplies. But it gives no specific examples.

In this connection, the Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly recently passed a unanimous suprapartisan resolution saying, in effect, that the central government has no right to dictate to local governments. The move, the first ever by a prefectural assembly, indicates that local governments are deeply concerned about the guidelines bills.

In a related development, the national association of prefectural governors has filed a petition with the government requesting a more detailed explanation of the bills. Obuchi said the government would not take “retaliatory action” against local entities that disobeyed its orders. However, national security is premised on public support. I believe the bill should include specific examples of cooperation.

Meanwhile, emergency legislation providing for measures in the event of an armed attack on Japan is looming as a realistic subject of discussion. The need for such legislation has been voiced by government and business leaders in connection with the guidelines bills legislation.

During an exchange at an Upper House Budget Committee meeting in late February, Defense Agency Director General Hosei Norota mentioned the need for three new laws concerning (1) actions to be taken by the SDF, (2) actions to be taken by U.S. forces and (3) measures to protect the lives and properties of the Japanese people.

Regarding legislation concerning SDF actions, the Defense Agency published, in 1981 and 1988, the results of its studies on relevant activities provided for in the SDF Law (expropriation of land, construction of forts, establishment of field hospitals, etc.) and on other related provisions in domestic laws, such as those governing coastal activities and medical services.

As for a law concerning U.S. military actions, Norota said for the first time that the agency would begin studies on such legislation at an early date.

In a related move, the LDP in January launched the “Project Team on Crisis Management” under former defense chief Fukushiro Nukaga. Keizai Doyukai, the Japanese Association of Corporate Executives, came out two weeks ago in favor of contingency legislation.

Such legislation has been the subject of controversy ever since the 1970s. However, no specific action has been taken due to the unproductive ideological confrontation between the LDP and the Japan Socialist Party, which dominated Japanese politics for nearly four decades from 1955 to 1993, when the LDP lost its monopoly on power.

Following the end of the Cold War, however, the world faced a spate of new threats to peace, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, and the large number of refugees displaced by civil wars. Faced with these and other new signs of instability in the post-Cold War world, Japan, too, began to take a hard look at its security policy.

The overarching question for Japan is what it should do to promote the security of the Asia-Pacific region in the next century, particularly peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Japan’s politicians face a formidable challenge: to address the questions of national defense and security from the strategic point of view.

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