The Abe administration, in a Cabinet decision made on Tuesday — the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces — changed the government's longstanding interpretation of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense. The decision not only effectively undermines the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 — which has prevented Japan from being involved in international military conflicts in the postwar period — but also violates the principles of rule of law under the Constitution.
The Cabinet decision, pending related changes to relevant laws, paves the way for the SDF to use force overseas to defend Japan's allies even if Japan itself is not under attack. In other words, it allows Japan to take part in conflicts abroad, potentially putting SDF members in harm's way.
The Abe administration's new interpretation of the Constitution also does not rule out Japan's participation in United Nations-led collective security operations, which are mainly aimed at punishing countries that breach international peace — a concept different from self-defense. This contradicts what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated at a news conference following Tuesday's Cabinet decision: "Japan will never take part in fighting such as has taken place in the Gulf War or the Iraq War." Abandoning the traditional "defense-only defense" position, the administration's move marks a clear departure from the postwar Japan's basic defense posture.