As the regular Diet session draws to a close, several key bills remain on the table. Among these are three defense bills designed to deal with a direct attack on Japan, real or perceived. The proposed legislation, however, is flawed in so many ways — including the lack of provisions for civilian protection — that a wholesale review is in order.

The three ruling parties — the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — have decided to carry the bills over to an extraordinary session in the autumn. Given the ongoing boycott by opposition parties and the scarcity of public support, however, there seems to be little chance of passage unless the package is substantially improved.

The package is opposed not only by the Communist and Social Democratic parties, which regard it as a violation of the Constitution, but also by the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party. The positions of the last two parties in particular must be reckoned with. The DPJ, the largest opposition group, is basically in favor of emergency military legislation, while the Liberal Party takes a positive stance on defense and security policy.

There is opposition even in the top echelons of the LDP. Former Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, for one, has suggested that the bills be killed rather than shelved. Heads of local governments — which would be required to work closely with the central government in a military emergency — have also expressed strong concerns. All of this indicates that the package is riddled with problems.

National defense has always been an extremely sensitive issue in this country. Official studies on legislation to meet a direct military attack began as far back as 1977, but it was not until this year that such legislation was discussed in the Diet. The very fact that it has been discussed in the national legislature is, therefore, a matter of historical significance; a major milestone in the post-World War II history of the nation’s security policy. In concrete terms, however, the debate has hit the wall. The “emergency session” that began with a bang is ending with a whimper.

One reason for this is that public confidence in the government has suffered because of the Defense Agency’s improper handling of personal data and a verbal gaffe by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda suggesting that Japan might alter its nonnuclear policy. Essentially, however, the failed debate reflects ambiguities and inadequacies in the package that stem in no small measure from the haste with which it was prepared.

A case in point: The Self-Defense Forces would be mobilized not only in the event of an actual attack but also when an attack is either threatened or imminent. The difficulty is that there is no telling how and when, and even whether, such an attack would take place. Whether an attack is determined to be “threatened or imminent” would depend on the analysis of the situation. It is also unclear how a Japanese response would tie into U.S. action under the bilateral defense cooperation guidelines that apply to a military crisis in areas around Japan.

Beyond that, the package does not include rules for the protection of civilians. One of the three bills deals with cases of military emergency. A second is designed to bolster the Security Council of Japan (established in 1986), and a third aims to facilitate deployment of the SDF. There is no bill to protect the lives and secure the safety of ordinary citizens. The government says such legislation will be prepared in the future.

Perhaps the fundamental problem is that the bills are based on the assumption of “large-scale aggression by foreign forces.” With the Cold War over, however, this assumption seems unrealistic. An attack on Japan, if one ever takes place, would more likely take the form of a missile attack from an intruding ship or an act of terrorism, not a conventional invasion.

The Constitution, of course, puts severe limits on the use of force. But there is no question that the SDF need to be better prepared for an emergency within the constitutional framework. As Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proverbially puts it, “providing is preventing.” However, if he thinks “large-scale aggression” is the most likely form of attack, he is out of touch with reality.

The fact is that the international situation today is becoming ever more complex, militarily and otherwise. Relying heavily on military power is a dangerous course for a nation committed to a “no war” policy. While it is essential to maintain a minimum necessary degree of military preparedness, it is also vital to step up diplomatic efforts to stabilize relations with neighboring countries. In both respects, public understanding and cooperation are indispensable.

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.