Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, in a policy speech to the Diet Jan. 31, stated: “Emergency legislation (designed to defend Japan in the event of foreign aggression) is necessary to ensure the security of the state and the people. I intend to initiate considerations in this regard.” Earlier, on Jan. 26, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed to bolster the Japan-U.S. alliance. The Mori statement is a signal to the new U.S. administration that Japan will take a more positive defense-policy stance.

Mori’s emphasis on contingency legislation also reflects a desire to ride out the parliamentary storm over bribery and embezzlement scandals by focusing attention on policy issues. Aside from the security issue, the Mori administration places importance on information technology and educational reform.

Beyond that, Mori seems to be trying to “divide and conquer” the opposition. The two largest opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party, are in favor of contingency legislation, but the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party are dead set against it.

This issue could also divide the tripartite ruling coalition, depending on how it is handled. New Komeito, the second-largest partner, has no stomach for contingency legislation. Politically, it is a double-edged sword for the coalition.

“Emergency legislation” is a logical followup to the enactment of a set of enabling measures for the Japan-U.S. defense-cooperation guidelines. The last piece of the package — a law that permits Japan to inspect foreign vessels on open seas — took effect last December.

Emergency legislation would enable the Self-Defense Forces to perform their mission effectively and smoothly in the event of an armed attack on Japan. Official studies began in 1977, with no legislative strings attached.

Such legislation would provide for measures concerning (1) SDF activities, (2) U.S. military activities, and (3) protection of the people’s lives and property. Current studies focus on measures involving the SDF. The results of studies on statutes related specifically to the Defense Agency and other government ministries were released in 1981 and 1984, respectively. However, little progress has been made on statutes affecting “gray area” measures whose lines of jurisdiction are not clear.

The studies have exposed a variety of legal flaws that prevent the SDF from protecting Japanese territory and the Japanese people during security contingencies. For instance, statutes related to the Defense Agency include no ordinance that allows the SDF to request prefectural cooperation in requisitioning supplies and/or using land. Also, the current SDF Law does not permit troops to pass through private land. This would hamper rapid troop movement at a time of crisis.

Current statutes related to other government offices also constrain effective SDF response in a security emergency. Building a fort, for instance, requires expropriating land. But current laws governing shorelines, rivers, forests, natural parks and the like restrict land use for reasons of land conservation and environmental protection. So approval must be obtained for utilization. But in a contingency there is no time to go through the red tape. So special provisions that allow emergency use are necessary.

Exceptions must also be made to various other laws. Building a field hospital, for instance, would require exemption from the Medical Service Law. By the same token, the burial or cremation of war dead would make it necessary to set special rules outside the law concerning cemeteries and burial.

As examples of gray-area activities, a Defense Agency document cites the treatment of prisoners of war, such as the construction of POW camps, under the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of War Victims, or the so-called Red Cross conventions. The document points to the need for domestic legislation to implement these international agreements.

An opinion poll on the SDF and defense issues conducted in January last year by the then Prime Minister’s Office (now the Cabinet Office) produced interesting results. Here are some of the findings:

When asked whether there is “a danger of Japan getting involved in war,” a record 30.5 percent said yes. That’s up 9.4 points from a similar poll taken three years earlier. Asked about security concerns, 56.7 percent (up 10 points and also a new record) gave “the situation on the Korean Peninsula.” To the question “Do you support the SDF in the event of a foreign attack?,” 43.3 percent, again the highest number ever, answered in the positive.

These replies indicate a heightened security consciousness on the part of the Japanese. In the background are the series of incidents involving North Korea that had occurred in the previous two years, particularly the firing of a Taepodong ballistic missile over Japan in 1998 and the intrusion of North Korean spy boats into Japanese territorial waters in 1999. In the latter incident, warning shots were fired by a destroyer and bombs dropped by an antisubmarine patrol plane in the first maritime policing operation conducted by the SDF.

A U.S. special report completed last October by a suprapartisan group of “Japanophiles,” including former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard L. Armitage, who was nominated last week as deputy secretary of state, calls for Japan to lift its self-imposed ban on the exercise of the right to “collective self-defense.” The report also calls for the “diligent implementation of the revised Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation, including passage of crisis-management legislation.” The Bush administration is likely to press Tokyo to expedite preparations for emergency legislation.

In March 2000, the then tripartite ruling coalition of the LDP, the Liberal Party and New Komeito asked the government to start drafting crisis legislation. However, little progress has been made so far because of Komeito’s opposition to enacting such legislation. Meanwhile, in December a project team of the DPJ, the largest opposition party, proposed emergency legislation, including a “basic law on national emergencies.”

Reacting to strong objections from the Communist and Socialist parties in the Diet, Mori stated: “It is the supreme mission of politics to protect the people’s lives and property. We should have emergency legislation ready in peacetime.” In this election year, however, pushing for such legislation is a political gamble.

But then, procrastination could be taken by Washington as a lack of determination to bolster the alliance. Work on contingency legislation has been put on hold ever since problems involved were studies 16 years ago. Will the Mori administration be able to get the ball rolling again? That is a crucial question that will test the Japan-U.S. alliance.

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