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A recent series of events has demonstrated the deterioration of Japan as a nation. At the root of the problem appears to be a bottomless nihilism on the part of those in power characterized by their thinking that the powers that be can ignore the rules and norms of society and polity.

On July 1, the Abe administration made a Cabinet decision to pave the way for Japan engaging in collective self-defense. This is an act that alters the foundation of Japan’s national security policies developed over the past 60 years, and an outrageous move that way oversteps the power of a single Cabinet.

How vague and sloppy the decision itself is was illustrated by the Budget Committee debates in both chambers of the Diet held two weeks later.

New Komeito, the junior coalition partner to Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, claims to have put a brake on Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense. It insists that the nation’s traditional defense posture remains intact on the grounds that the Self-Defense Forces would be mobilized only when it is clear that an armed attack on another country with which Japan has close ties causes the same damage as a direct attack on Japan.

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argues that the SDF can be deployed on a minesweeping mission in the Persian Gulf, saying that Japan’s national security would be directly affected if a Middle East conflict cuts off crude oil supplies to Japan.

If the SDF can be dispatched in order to secure natural resources, it then means that the SDF can be dispatched anywhere in the world.

Therefore, the new conditions for the use of force overseas set under the LDP-New Komeito agreement will never serve as an effective brake on Japan’s military actions overseas.

Questions and answers in the Diet showed that the text of the Cabinet decision allows different people to interpret it in their own way.

If so, the norms set by the Cabinet over Japan engaging in collective self-defense will be meaningless. In the first place, Abe does not have the idea that government leaders must exercise their power in accordance with rules that are set down in words.

In his attempt to criticize China, Abe often boasts that Japan shares the Western value of the rule of law. But his actions imply that he does not understand the very concept of the rule of law.

If the content of norms and rules of a nation can be freely changed by those who interpret them, the nation is no longer under the rule of law; it’s under the rule of man.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulation Authority screened Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in accordance with the NRA’s plant design standards updated in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and announced that the Sendai plant has cleared the screening. Thus the NRA has paved the way for restarting the idled plant.

At the same time, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said NRA cannot determine whether the plant is safe to restart. The NRA chief insists its screening standards are not safety standards.

Yet, the Abe administration, which had repeatedly said it would reactivate nuclear power plants that have cleared “the safety standards,” is expected to push for a quick restart of the Sendai plant. The government says that NRA screening has confirmed the safety of the Sendai plant.

As with the issue of the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, each of the people involved in the nuclear power policy is allowed to interpret the rules in his or her own way.

All these events demonstrate that people in power in this country — in particular Abe — do not recognize that they are bound by rules. They defiantly argue that even if certain things are prohibited under rules, they can do them simply by first changing the interpretation of the rules. Or, if they cannot win a game, they think that it’s because the rules and the referee are wrong. They then think that if the referee is replaced, things will be all right.

The most important question is no longer whether each of Abe’s policies is good or bad, but rather whether we are going to condone the prime minister’s basic attitude that negates the common sense of a modern state and will lead to turning Japan into a barbaric nation.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.

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