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2014年5月 4日 (日)

憲法記念日 集団的自衛権で抑止力高めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun 6:47 pm, May 03, 2014
Collective self-defense a necessity for Japan in a changed world
憲法記念日 集団的自衛権で抑止力高めよ


Constitution Day on Saturday marks 67 years since the nation’s supreme law came into force, a period during which Japan has witnessed tectonic changes in the situation surrounding it.

In particular, Japan’s security environment has relentlessly deteriorated in recent years. At a time when U.S. power is in relative decline, North Korea is continuing its development of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles, while China is pursuing a rapid military buildup and aggressively trying to enhance its presence at sea.

It is an urgent task for Japan to improve its defense power and strengthen its alliance with the United States if it wants to protect its land, territorial waters and airspace as well as the people’s lives and property.

Being aware of these goals, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is out to change the government’s constitutional interpretation to allow the nation to exercise the right to collective self-defense. His efforts should be highly praised.

It is realistic to take the approach of allowing the exercise of the right by changing the government’s interpretation and having the Diet revise legislation, including the Self-Defense Forces Law, in light of the fact that revising the Constitution takes a long time.

Contradictory position

The right to collective self-defense allows a nation, even when not under attack itself, to launch an armed counterattack when there is an attack on another nation with which it has close ties. This right, clearly spelled out in the U.N. Charter, is granted to all nations in the world.

The government’s Cabinet Legislation Bureau has a longstanding interpretation that while Japan does possess the right to collective self-defense under international law, it is not allowed to exercise that right under the Constitution. But this position is not viable by any international standard.

The government repeated this view over and over again during its answers to the Diet in 1981, showing restraint on the issue in part to weather stormy parliamentary debate between the conservative and progressive camps.

Opponents say any change in the government interpretation would be tantamount to negating “constitutionalism that constrains the state’s power to protect the people’s rights.”

But constitutionalism is a broad idea that encompasses the concepts of guaranteeing the people’s rights as well as moving politics forward in line with constitutional principles, including the separation of powers among the administrative, legislative and judicial branches.

It is difficult to fathom criticism that the move would be a denial of constitutionalism when the Cabinet, which has the right to make official interpretations of the Constitution, is taking proper procedures to seek changes in its constitutional interpretations.

It is worth mentioning that it would not be the first time that the government has changed its constitutional interpretation. The government has previously changed its interpretation of the definition of “civilian” in Article 66 of the Constitution.

Consensus on limited approval

As a nation’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense does not require an “imminent and unlawful” infringement on the nation itself, some critics say that it would pave the way for Japan to follow U.S. moves to go to war on the other side of the globe. But we have to say this is nothing but a groundless agitation.

Changing the constitutional interpretation regarding the right to collective self-defense does not mean getting involved in a war but is aimed primarily at enhancing deterrence to prevent war.

If the change is reflected in reexamination of the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines scheduled for December, the bilateral alliance would be further strengthened. Elevating deterrence would, in fact, help decrease the possibility of Japan being involved in armed clashes.

The government and the Liberal Democratic Party are considering allowing the exercise of the collective defense right to limited cases.

Using the Supreme Court’s 1959 ruling on the so-called Sunagawa incident in 1957 as a basis, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura calls for enabling the country to exercise its “minimum necessary self-defense right for the purpose of securing Japan’s existence as a nation.” His argument for “limited permission” is persuasive.

Even if the Cabinet decides to change the official constitutional interpretation, it would not be possible for the right to be exercised immediately. Legal revisions by the Diet would be required.

As legal requirements, Diet approval and a request for protection from a country under attack would be considered conditions for the exercise of the right.

LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba has said that if exercise of the right to collective self-defense was permitted, strict legal limits would be applied by revising such laws as the Self-Defense Forces Law and the law to cope with situations surrounding Japan that threaten the nation’s peace and security. In addition to the legislative branch, the judicial branch will check whether exercise of the right is constitutional whenever it is exercised. So abuse of the right could be prevented.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party have expressed support for the change in constitutional interpretation regarding the right to collective self-defense.

The LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, remains wary of the change. The party argues that if a U.S. military ship is attacked in the sea around Japan, it can be dealt with through the exercise of the right to individual self-defense by regarding it as an armed attack on Japan.

But it is difficult to draw the line on the application of the right to individual self-defense in times of emergency. Action must be taken in cooperation with an alliance partner and friendly countries by anticipating every possible situation.

‘Minor self-defense right’

It is also possible that emergencies stopping short of armed attacks will happen. It is necessary to study establishing legal arrangements to cope with such cases by exercising what is called the “minor self-defense right.”

Seven ruling and opposition parties jointly submitted to the Diet last month a bill to revise the National Referendum Law, which sets the procedures for constitutional revision. The bill is likely to be enacted before the current Diet session ends in June.

Given this view, initiation of a constitutional amendment will become a realistic option. The ruling and opposition parties need to launch debate on revision of specific provisions by cherishing a wide-ranging consensus formed through the joint sponsorship of the revision bill.

The Abe administration is urged to proactively explain the need for constitutional revision so that it can win support from a wider range of the people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 3, 2014)


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