The government is stepping up efforts to revise the 1995 Defense Program Outline, which sets guidelines for the buildup of the Self-Defense Forces. A revision is considered necessary in light of recent changes in the security environment surrounding Japan. Beyond adjusting to reality, though, it is essential that a new buildup plan does not depart from the basic norms of Japanese defense policy and the constitutional principles of peace.

The revision issue has been discussed since April at Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s advisory panel on security and defense capability. The Defense Agency, meanwhile, has been conducting its own research for three years now. Based on the results of these discussions and studies, the government plans to complete a new outline by the end of the year.

The aim of the planned revision is partly to update the traditional policy of defending the country against aggression by foreign military forces. It is also designed to deal with “new threats” to national security, such as weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and terrorist attacks.

The possibility of Japan fighting aggression has all but disappeared since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, new threats have posed a serious security-policy challenge in the wake of missile tests by North Korea and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The question is how to meet these threats.

Members of the advisory panel reportedly believe that the traditional concept of “basic defense capability” should be changed. This concept, which was adopted in 1976, says that Japan should maintain a minimum level of defense force required of an independent state lest it should create a destabilizing power vacuum in surrounding areas. In other words, the aim of buildup is not to directly counter security threats. It seems that the government is trying to update, or expand, this long-standing definition of basic defense capability. In other words, it is trying to secure enough elbowroom in defense buildup to meet the new threats.

The panel is also said to favor a wholesale review of the three principles governing weapons exports. These rules, established in 1967, prohibit the nation from selling weapons to (1) Communist nations, (2) nations to which weapons sales are prohibited under U.N. resolutions, and (3) nations involved or likely to be involved in international disputes. The scope was expanded later to include other nations.

The review is being proposed against the backdrop of Japan-U.S. cooperation in missile defense. The government, which plans to build an antimissile system, believes that the export controls need to be relaxed to promote joint research and development with the U.S.

That said, it should be remembered that the concept of basic defense capability has helped prevent an unprincipled expansion of Japan’s military power. As for the arms export ban, its significance is that the nation has avoided supporting any armed conflicts abroad through weapons sales. In both cases, the constitutional principle of seeking peace by nonmilitary means has been essentially maintained. This principle should not be abandoned, no matter how serious the new threats.

Events after the Sept. 11 attacks show clearly that it is impossible to contain terrorism by military means alone. The lesson is obvious: A comprehensive strategy led by diplomatic initiative, not military might, is the best way possible to deal with the new threats. The proposed new outline, now in the final stages of drafting, will also emphasize the SDF’s growing international role. Overseas activities such as participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO) are currently defined as “auxiliary duties.” These activities will be upgraded to “primary duties” so that SDF troops can be more efficiently deployed abroad. A plan to create an “international standby unit” is reportedly being considered.

SDF missions abroad have expanded since the dispatch of mine sweepers to the Persian Gulf following the 1991 war against Iraq. These missions, mandated by the PKO cooperation law and by special laws on antiterrorism measures and reconstruction support in Iraq, make up a significant part of SDF activities.

These overseas duties, however, have been carried out without full discussion of how they relate to the constitutional restraints on the use of force abroad. If the proposed standby unit is to be created, the question of how to define the international role of the SDF, an exclusively defense-oriented organization, will have to be fully addressed. Otherwise the government will have established yet another fait accompli, leaving yet another vital issue on the back burner.

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.