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2014年6月21日 (土)


June 20, 2014
EDITORIAL: Ruling coalition's radical security policy shift doomed to fail test of history

The talks between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, over Japan’s right to collective self-defense are already entering the final stages, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s promise not to set a fixed deadline for concluding the negotiations.

Abe and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi held talks on June 19, and agreed to continue the discussions after the current Diet session concludes on June 22.

The focus of the coalition talks has already shifted from whether to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense to the issue as to what extent it can be exercised.

Abe is intent on putting his Cabinet’s official seal of approval on this important security policy shift by early July at the latest.

No matter what restrictions are placed on the actual implementation of the new policy, allowing Japan to use the right to collective self-defense will lead to Japan’s involvement in the defense of other countries, which successive Cabinets had said is banned by Article 9 of the Constitution.

This policy shift will pave the way for overseas deployments of the Self-Defense Forces for missions that are not performed under the traditional defense-only policy.

It has been little more than a month since Abe announced his intention to consider changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution. It is hard to claim that this radical change in the nation’s security policy, which would even require school textbooks to be rewritten, is supported by broad public consensus.

This is not an issue that should be settled simply through political compromise between the ruling parties after negotiations under an effectively fixed time frame.

The debate on this issue should be brought back to square one.


Having discussed 15 specific cases cited by the government as likely situations where Japan would participate in collective self-defense operations, the ruling parties on June 20 shifted the focus of debate to the draft text for a Cabinet endorsement, which is based on the private proposal made by LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura.

The 15 cases were actually a stage prop for discussions, and they are no longer necessary, according to a New Komeito senior official. Although that was clear from the beginning, it is hard not to feel a sense of futility about the discussions so far.

There are serious concerns about Komura’s private proposal.

The primary condition set by the proposal for the use of armed force by the SDF in response to an armed attack against another country is that “there are concerns that Japan’s existence could be threatened and that the Japanese people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could be fundamentally violated.”

At first glance, this appears to impose tight restrictions on Japan’s participation in collective self-defense. Actually, however, the SDF would be allowed to use armed force if the government judges the conditions are met.

That’s why the promise to allow only limited use of the right to collective self-defense is in reality an empty pretense.

The move will open the door to the SDF’s use of armed force to defend other countries under vague requirements. It is glaringly obvious that once this door is opened the scope of the “minimum necessary” will be widened swiftly.

In response to a request from New Komeito, the LDP may agree to change the wording of the condition to make it sound a little stricter in the text of the Cabinet approval, but the essence of this move cannot change. In a case of cunning political maneuvering, the revision to the text will be used as another incentive to entice New Komeito to support the initiative.

This clearly shows a fundamental limitation to the influence New Komeito can have on the results of the talks, given New Komeito’s decision in an early stage to deny itself the option of dissolving its alliance with the LDP.


The talks between the LDP and New Komeito were initiated after Abe, in a news conference in May, made a passionate call for changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.
“Under the current interpretation of the Constitution, the SDF is not allowed to protect a U.S. vessel carrying Japanese nationals,” the prime minister said at the news conference.

As the discussions began, however, it quickly became clear that the government envisions many other new roles that the SDF will play under the pretext of collective self-defense.

Typical of Abe’s ambition to expand the scope of the SDF’s missions is his argument that Japan should contribute to minesweeping efforts in areas such as the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, Abe has stressed in news conferences and Diet sessions that the security environment surrounding Japan is changing dramatically, citing China’s rapid military buildup and recent incidents of Chinese fighter jets flying dangerously close to SDF aircraft.

To be sure, China’s military expansion is beginning to pose a security threat to Japan. But the issue of Japan’s right to collective self-defense does not have a direct bearing on the question of how to respond to China’s actions to put pressure on Japan related to the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which have made many Japanese uneasy. But this is a problem that should be dealt with under the context of the right to individual self-defense.

Cases cited by the government include a response to the landing of a foreign armed group on a remote island belonging to Japan. But this problem has basically been solved by an agreement between the two parties to simplify the procedures for mobilizing the SDF for policing missions. The focus of the talks has already shifted from these issues.

Why is the Abe administration using such half-baked, unconvincing arguments to make a headlong rush toward Cabinet approval to allow Japan to use its right to collective self-defense?


The answer is clear.

The Abe administration is not interested in serious policy debate on what should be done to ensure Japan’s security. Enabling the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense has become its No. 1 political goal. Allowing the Abe administration to push its way to change the interpretation of the Constitution will create serious problems for the future.

If the prime minister really believes that using collective self-defense is vital for Japan’s national security, Abe should make a compelling case for his initiative without making an emotionally charged vow to “protect the lives” of people or playing up the security threat posed by China.

After arguing his case, Abe should then initiate the process of amending the Constitution as stipulated in Article 96 for ratification by the people through a national referendum.

The radical security policy change envisioned by the prime minister will not pass the test of history unless it is made through this formal process of forming a national consensus.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 20


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