The controversial bills for implementing the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines finally cleared the Upper House Monday with some key issues remaining unresolved or vague: at least they seem so to ordinary people. One such issue is the emergency condition that requires Japan to mobilize the Self-Defense Forces in support of U.S. forces.

The enacted bill defines this condition as “emergencies surrounding Japan,” a phrase for which the government has given labored explanations: Such emergencies would be: (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 in 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.

These elaborate explanations, however, obviously fall short of shedding light on the precise circumstances that will make Japan put its armed forces in harm’s way. Many Japanese, including those who basically support the Japan-U.S. security arrangement, are left with a very basic doubt: Why is the government unable to satisfactorily specify the geographic scope under which the new guidelines laws will be invoked?

This is an important question that should have been answered clearly and honestly. It is all the more important because the government’s laborious explanations indicate that Japan will be able to send the SDF anywhere in the world if the above conditions are met. This represents a de facto departure from the constraints of the Constitution, but without revising it: yet another irresponsibly stretched interpretation of the Constitution.

Under the new uncertainties of the post-Cold War security framework, Japan must redefine its security arrangements based on the bilateral security treaty with the United States. Vagueness or ambiguity, however, does not serve to build a stronger and more viable security framework with our ally. The government will have to make strenuous efforts to remove persistent public suspicions provoked by its failure to speak clearly about the implications of the phrase “emergencies surrounding Japan.”

Another issue concerns parliamentary authority over mobilization of the SDF. In principle, the government must seek Diet approval before mobilizing the defense forces, but in an extreme emergency, it will be allowed to get a mere ex post facto nod from the legislature. To make the most of this flexible provision when a real emergency rises, the government will have to be permanently prepared.

Our fundamental concern, however, is about why this nation has to expand the role of the SDF under the current circumstances. In the Diet, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi repeatedly pointed out the continuing instability of international relations in Asia-Pacific.

True, the situation in Asia is unstable. To cite a few examples: North Korea has launched a missile over the Japanese archipelago, posing a threat both to Japan and to other countries in the region. North Korea’s suspected nuclear development and its spy ships’ activities in Japan’s territorial waters are also destabilizing factors. In addition, the tense relationship between China and Taiwan could prove a real tinderbox.

Resolving these issues by removing their causes is certainly important for this country, and requires strategic thinking. Throughout the Diet debate, however, both the administrative branch and the legislature have failed to develop a strategic approach to the issue of regional security. This has triggered a deep public uncertainty concerning the basic question: Why must the SDF, whose mission is to defend this nation, deepen its direct commitment to the security of all Asia? Convincingly logical debate on this question has not emerged from the Diet.

The poor performance in the Diet has made us pose the fundamental question of whether use of the SDF will be effective in calming a sudden outbreak of conflict. One of the answers to this question is being given by NATO’s military intervention in the Kosovo issue. The world now is learning yet another lesson that military action cannot always decisively settle a conflict.

This should be borne in mind in stepping up national efforts to promote Japan’s security. Almost always, political and diplomatic means must play a predominant role in ensuring the nation’s security. To be viable and effective, such means demand a broad strategic approach to the problem. This has not existed prominently in the Diet debate on the guidelines-related bills.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.