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Over the past year, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appears to have all but lost his enthusiasm for military contingency legislation. Protecting the lives and property of the Japanese people from armed attack is the most important duty of the prime minister as the supreme commander of the Self-Defense Forces.

Like other nations around the world, Japan has been jolted by the new threats posed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the subsequent military campaign in Afghanistan and the gun battle between a North Korean spy ship and Japan Coast Guard ships in the East China Sea some 14 months ago.

In his policy speech to the Diet last February, Koizumi stressed the need for contingency legislation, saying: “We should bear in mind the adage, ‘Be prepared and have no regrets.’ It is the duty of our nation to establish a structure in times of peace necessary to ensure the independence and sovereignty of our state and to ensure the safety of our people.”

In April the government sent related bills to the regular Diet session. They have yet to pass. In his Jan. 31 policy speech, the prime minister showed little determination to secure their passage. He said matter-of-factly, “We will work to improve the state of preparedness against emergency situations, including incidents of unidentified armed vessels and large-scale terrorism, and aim at the passage of the emergency bills in the current session of the Diet.”

He said nothing of how North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs are threatening the security of Japan and destabilizing the situation in Northeast Asia. The reality is that North Korea poses as great a threat to world peace as Iraq.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review of September 2001 paints a grim picture of the regional security situation. “Along a broad arc of instability that stretches from the Middle East to Northeast Asia the region contains a volatile mix of rising and declining powers,” it says.

Koizumi, however, seems to lack an understanding of the worsening security situation. In the absence of this, Japan will be unable to formulate a strategic vision for dealing with the new threats that have proliferated since 9/11. Nor will it be able to generate the political energy to establish contingency legislation for meeting such threats.

The bills in question spell out how the nation will act in a national security crisis. As such, they provide a legal framework for SDF activities as well as the people’s rights and obligations in such an emergency. Without such legislation, the Self-Defense Forces would have to take supralegal action against an armed attack or sit idly by in the face of aggression. Neither choice can be justified in an independent nation. Yet it has taken 25 years since the government started research on this matter for relevant legislation to reach the Diet floor.

In last year’s Diet sessions, much time was spent debating when and how the nation would act. That it will act in the event of an actual attack is all too obvious. What is less certain is how it will respond to a “threatened” or “anticipated” attack. The sticking point, of course, is how to define what constitutes an “attack” that may or may not take place.

The contingency package was also criticized as lacking measures against acts of terrorism and intrusions by unidentified armed vessels. Last November, the ruling coalition came up with revision proposals, but the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties rejected them.

The government, meanwhile, is planning to establish, within two years after the defense-related bills are enacted, a legislative framework for protecting the people’s lives and property in the event of a military attack. A plan submitted to the Diet last November calls for, among other things, the sharing of roles between the central and local governments and the cooperation of designated public organizations, such as the Japan Red Cross, to minimize the impact of an attack on people’s lives and the economy.

While outlining evacuation and other compulsory measures to protect residents, the plan says the people would be required to take a variety of steps themselves, such as storing or delivering emergency goods (medicine, food) and offering land and housing. Those who disobey orders would be punished.

The government’s explanations, particularly about sensitive matters involving the people’s rights and obligations, have been criticized as inadequate. In January it kicked off a round of briefings for local governments. But if protective legislation had been prepared early on, it could have been debated — as it should have been — as an integral part of the contingency legislation.

The bill to revise the SDF Law, one of the three defense-related bills, aims to update the rules governing land use, property expropriation and other measures that would be taken at the time of troop deployment. The bill would make exceptions to 20 related laws, including one governing the use of coastal areas, to facilitate SDF activities during a combat operation, such as building positions and setting up a field hospital.

Responding to questions in the current Diet session, Koizumi sought public support for the contingency legislation, saying that “terrorism, spy ships from North Korea and the abduction of Japanese citizens (by North Korean agents) pose real threats to the safety of the Japanese people.” However, Japan faces a greater strategic threat in the form of weapons of mass destruction.

As Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers stressed in a joint statement issued at the end of the bilateral Security Consultative Committee meeting in Washington last December, “North Korean use of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, will have the greatest consequences,” meaning use of force against North Korea. The last phrase, which was reportedly inserted at the request of U.S. participants, is a strong warning against the North’s nuclear weapons program.

It is worrisome that Japan has no contingency legislation at a time when North Korea’s escalating game of nuclear and missile brinkmanship is rapidly raising tensions in Northeast Asia. The absence of such legislation is a reflection of grave negligence on the part of politicians.

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