The House of Representatives Special Committee on Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation is winding down its deliberations on the guidelines legislation. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is eager to secure passage of the bills in the Lower House before he leaves for the United States later this month for talks with President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Obuchi’s anxiety is understandable. After all, the guidelines were written in September 1997 and legislation has been languishing in the Diet for an entire year. Given the uncertainties of the post-Cold War security framework in this part of the world, Japan must redefine its security arrangements with its American ally. The new guidelines are intended to do exactly that — hence, we need to know where we stand as a nation before we put our security commitments in the statute book.

Two central issues remain unresolved. Under the new defense guidelines, the Japanese government is supposed to mobilize the Self-Defense Forces in support of U.S. forces in the event of “emergencies surrounding Japan.” But Diet deliberations, so far, have shed little light on the precise circumstances that would lead Japan to put its armed forces in harm’s way. The second issue concerns parliamentary authority: Must the government seek Diet approval before mobilizing the SDF? Or would a mere after-the-fact nod from the legislature be good enough? These are fundamental issues, directly affecting the self-defense doctrine that each Japanese government has faithfully upheld under the postwar Constitution.

Despite repeated demands by opposition parties, the government has yet to satisfactorily specify either the geographic scope or the circumstances under which the guidelines legislation would be invoked. According to Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, the government sees four “typical” scenarios that would fall under the definition of “emergencies surrounding Japan”: (1) the outbreak of an armed conflict that has an important bearing on Japan’s peace and security; (2) the imminent outbreak of such an armed conflict; (3) the possibility of a massive inflow of refugees from a country experiencing political chaos; and (4) a situation in which the behavior of a foreign power is subjected to economic sanctions based on a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Even though the public can draw certain conclusions from this labored definition of the scope of the guidelines’ applicability, we still need more. While it may be strategically sound to keep military options open, Japan’s defense policy must be kept firmly within the bounds of the Constitution. Without a clear definition of scope in the guidelines law, Japan’s obligations under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty could theoretically widen to accommodate all security dictates of the U.S. worldwide.

True, the government has argued that “it is impossible to think” the guidelines legislation would cover conflicts in the Middle East, the Indian Ocean or other regions on the other side of the world. It has, however, deliberately avoided any clear reference to China’s demand that Taiwan be removed from the scope of the guidelines. The government must do more to allay public anxieties by clearly defining the extent of the new security commitments.

The direct involvement of the Diet under our system of representative government is equally important in times of national emergency. Under the terms of the present legislative package, the government is not required to seek parliamentary approval when invoking the guidelines. Fuzzy language aside, the implied lack of accountability is clearly unacceptable.

Under current laws, Diet approval is required before the government mobilizes the SDF in the event of national security emergencies directly affecting Japan. In the case of major domestic unrest that cannot be controlled by police power, the government must still seek Diet approval after it sends out the SDF to restore law and order. According to the doctrine of civilian control, the Diet must likewise have the final say on whether to mobilize the armed forces in the event of “emergencies surrounding the nation.”

It is true that the outbreak of an emergency with national security implications requires swift government action and allows no room for political procrastination. Still, the Diet is the supreme government body, and due political process is vital if sacrifices are to be made for a national cause. Last but not least, the guidelines legislation is basically intended to conditionally justify the SDF’s cooperation with U.S. forces beyond the nation’s territory. This could mean a significant change in the framework of the Japan-U.S. security arrangement.

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