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The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition group, has so far lacked a clear-cut security policy. The reason is clear. As a “scratch team” put together by breakaways from various parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party and the former Japan Socialist Party, the DPJ has found that its members’ views on security issues vary widely.

Now, however, three years after its inauguration, the party has framed a basic security policy. Being a product of compromise, it skirts some key questions. But it also includes bold statements suggesting that the party’s policy is based on a determination to take the reins of government in the near future.

In fact, the DPJ is in a position to influence the direction of the nation’s security policy in the 21st century. This is a far cry from the situation that prevailed in the Cold-War era, when the the LDP and the JSP — the two largest parties, with diametrically opposite world views — were locked in an unproductive ideological confrontation. In that kind of context, the security debate could make little meaningful progress.

The DPJ is basically in agreement with the security policy of the government and the ruling parties. This reflects the realistic view that a change of government should not lead to a radical change in foreign and security policy. Gone are the days when such policy could be shaped almost exclusively by the party in power.

The highlight of the DPJ’s security policy is a clarion call for “emergency legislation” that would allow rapid deployment of the Self-Defense Forces in the event of a direct armed attack on this country. This proposal is not new. What is new is that the leading opposition party is now openly in favor of such legislation.

So far, discussion of a law to deal with a national security crisis has been more or less taboo. For one thing, many Japanese associate it with the prewar National Mobilization Act, which severely restricted popular rights. Diet debate on this did not even get started because of stiff resistance from the opposition parties. But enactment of the bills implementing the new guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation apparently has worked toward changing their mind-set.

At the moment, the DPJ seems a step ahead of other opposition groups in working out a unified view on emergency legislation. It calls for precautionary measures to make sure that the proposed law does not unnecessarily restrict citizens’ rights. The principle of civilian control is to be strictly maintained, even in an emergency, with the Diet keeping a close watch over SDF activity. The government and the ruling parties would be prevented from making unilateral decisions in support of military action.

The DPJ regards the Japan-U.S. security treaty as the linchpin of Japan’s security policy. On that basis, it stresses the need for this nation to take a more independent stance and to develop a working system of prior consultations on U.S. military operations here.

The Japan-U.S. alliance does not necessarily mean that the two nations’ interests must always agree. For the security arrangements to work smoothly, it is essential to maintain close coordination of views. Prior consultation is an important means of achieving this. In practice, however, this arrangement has not worked as it should.

Many Japanese are also concerned about cooperation with U.S. forces under the guidelines. The reason is that the U.S. might dictate to Japan in the event of a military crisis occurring in an area around this country. To prevent that, the government needs to make greater efforts to develop a better framework of cooperation so that the nation can maintain a more independent position.

One area of ambiguity in the DPJ’s security policy concerns the U.S. bases in Japan. The policy calls for consolidation, but it is unclear how this relates to the future of the security alliance. On the contentious issue of international cooperation, the party says that the SDF should participate in U.N. forces or collective-security systems if and when these are established, but whether that will be allowed under the present Constitution is left to future discussion. It opposes the SDF using arms in multinational forces, citing Article 9 of the Constitution.

As for the right to collective self-defense, the exercise of which is widely believed to be prohibited under the Constitution, the DPJ says that changing this constitutional interpretation is not the right way. This can be taken to mean that the party believes the Constitution should be amended to allow the nation to take military action in defense of its allies. The party has yet to be unequivocal enough on this crucial point.

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