Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is stepping up his moves to change the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, which holds that Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense — the use of military power to repel attacks on a country that has close ties with Japan even if Japan is not directly attacked.
Mr. Abe’s goal is for Japan to be able to exercise the right to collective self-defense. This, however, is a dangerous move that could eventually lead to the involvement of the Self-Defense Forces in overseas conflicts. Even if the change of the interpretation of Article 9 does not immediately lead to such a situation, it will raise suspicions about Japan’s intentions in the international community, especially in Northeast Asia, and increase frictions with neighboring countries. In short, rather than enhance Japan’s security, exercising the right to collective self-defense would likely undermine it.
To pave the way for changing the traditional interpretation of Article 9, Mr. Abe in August appointed Ambassador to France Ichiro Komatsu — who share’s Mr. Abe’s outlook — as the new head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. It is believed that after a private advisory body on the reconstruction of the legal basis of security issues a report in this fall, Mr. Abe will adopt a constitutional interpretation that allows Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and include the new interpretation in the defense program outline, a guideline for long-term defense capabilities improvement to be adopted by the end of this year.
All of Japan’s postwar governments — most of which have been led by the Liberal Democratic Party — have taken the position that although Japan as a sovereign nation has the right to collective self-defense, Article 9 does not allow Japan to exercise that right because it limits the exercise of the right to self-defense to the necessary minimum for the defense of Japan.
In accordance with this interpretation of Article 9, Japan has been taking a “defense-only defense” posture. Under this posture, Japan will exercise only the right to individual self-defense and use of weapons is only allowed when Japan comes under attack.
Under the first Abe administration, the same advisory body in 2008 recommended that the right to collective self-defense be exercised in limited cases, such as the protection of U.S. naval ships in international waters and the interception of ballistic missiles launched at the United States. But the advisory body is now expected to recommend unlimited exercise of the right to collective self-defense. If this interpretation is adopted, there is the strong possibility that the SDF will engage in support operations for U.S. armed forces deployed in various parts of the world and even carry out direct joint military operations with the U.S.
Japan’s defense-only defense posture helped it regain the trust of the international community in the postwar period, which in turn set the stage for it to become a leading economic power. If that posture is abandoned, there is a strong possibility that Japan will be forced to engage in military operations that will erode rather than bolster its diplomatic and security assets.
Equally worrisome is the way in which Mr. Abe is attempting to effectively revise the Constitution without following strict constitutional procedures that are designed to prevent imprudent revisions of the nation’s basic law. We oppose such an approach because it undermines the very foundation of Japanese democracy.
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