Constitutional reinterpretation enhances Japan’s deterrent power
The government has made a historic decision that will reinforce our coordination with the United States and other members of the international community. It is also likely that the decision will contribute to solidifying Japan’s peace and security.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet approved the government’s reinterpretation of the Constitution to allow limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense.
At a press conference that day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his resolve to “consolidate Japan’s path as a peace-seeking nation.” He also pledged to establish “a seamless legal framework on national security to protect the lives and daily livelihood of the people.”
There have been gaps between the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito over the issue. While the LDP has supported permitting Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense, Komeito held onto a cautious approach. We would like to praise both parties’ efforts to find middle ground and reach an agreement.
It is safe to say that Abe’s fiery devotion to the cause, as well as his persistent and unyielding position on the reinterpretation of the Constitution, has made it possible for the ruling parties to overcome difficulties and reach an agreement.
Komeito had to take time in building a consensus, including holding talks with its regional organizations, but in the end it was able to reach a responsible decision. We believe Komeito’s experience as a member of the ruling coalition has greatly helped the party reach such untiy.
Under the government’s reinterpretation of the Constitution, Japan will be permitted to use the minimum necessary force when an armed attack takes place against a foreign country with which Japan has close relations, and there is a clear danger that the basic rights of the people of Japan will be fundamentally undermined.
The interpretation that Japan “possesses, but cannot exercise” the right of collective self-defense has long stood. Allowing Japan to exercise the right is a major sea change, as it means Japan has overcome a national security problem that has long loomed over the nation.
The reinterpretation does not touch on specific issues, but it will likely enable Japan to deal with all eight example scenarios cited by the government as cases in which the nation should be able to exercise its collective self-defense right. Those scenarios include protecting U.S. vessels under armed attack, minesweeping operations and missile defense.
The reinterpretation has also left rooms for Japan to participate in minesweeping operations authorized by a U.N. resolution under a collective security framework. If the government goes too far in narrowing the scope of the nation’s permissible exercise of the collective self-defense right, it would restrain the activities of the Self-Defense Forces and hollow out the significance of changing the interpretation of the Constitution.
The reinterpretation follows the core principle of the 1972 government view on the right of collective self-defense and is logically consistent with previous interpretations. It is clear that this reinterpretation was made within a reasonable range.
This is not a case of using constitutional reinterpretation where actual amendments to the Constitution are required, and it differs fundamentally from such cases. This case is more a matter of the government making necessary adjustments to previous interpretations that were overly self-restrictive due to conditions in the Diet.
The reinterpretation is made based on the Cabinet’s right to an official interpretation of the Constitution. The Diet will play a role in this issue through deliberation of bills related to the reinterpretation, and when the government asks the Diet for approval of plans to exercise the right of collective self-defense. The judiciary also has a voice in the issue through the power of judicial review.
Thus the issue will be handled consistently with the Constitution’s principle of separation of powers among the administrative, legislative and judicial branches. It is difficult to understand criticisms asserting that the reinterpretation is “counter to constitutionalism.”
It is similarly off base to argue that the latest Cabinet decision would pave the way for war, a line of argument propagated by left-leaning and liberal voices. Exercising our nation’s right of collective self-defense does not mean using force to protect any other nation in a situation unrelated to our own defense. The government’s new stance on the right has categorically ruled out our nation’s involvement in military situations such as the Iraq War.
Permanent dispatch law needed
The government’s revised view on the right has also expanded the range of cooperative international peace activities the SDF will be able to conduct.
For instance, the revised interpretation has narrowed the scope of a constitutional ban on SDF actions inseparable from the use of force by another country. The Cabinet decision has limited the ban to “activities in combat zones.”
The decision has also made it possible for the SDF to conduct armed rescue operations during their involvement in U.N. peacekeeping missions and other overseas missions.
If civilians or foreign troops face an armed attack in areas distant from but accessible to SDF members engaged in such overseas tasks, these personnel will be able to go to their rescue. In such cases, they would be permitted to use weapons in their execution of such duties, under the latest Cabinet decision.
We believe these changes will enable the SDF to better accomplish international missions such as supply, transport and medical support activities along with U.N. peacekeeping operations.
The Cabinet decision also addresses some issues regarding SDF actions to be taken in what have been described as gray-zone situations, including a potential scenario in which foreign armed groups take control of remote Japanese islands. It expedites procedures for invoking SDF maritime patrol operations and other activities aimed at addressing such situations.
We suggest the government consider expanding the list of SDF duties to include territorial patrols, thereby enabling our country to carry out “seamless activities” in the event that the nation’s peaceful situation is subverted by a military contingency.
The government and the ruling parties are set to begin implementing legislative measures to complement the Cabinet decision during this autumn’s extraordinary Diet session. Among those measures are amendments to the Self-Defense Forces Law and the Armed Attack Situations Response Law. It is important to create and refine laws to respond flexibly to a variety of situations.
It is also worthwhile to consider establishing a permanent law on SDF dispatch for overseas missions—not only for U.N. peacekeeping missions, as sanctioned under the current legislation.
At the end of the year, Tokyo and Washington are scheduled to revise the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation. The Japanese and U.S. governments must ensure the planned changes to the defense cooperation guidelines properly incorporate changes made to our nation’s defense policies as a result of the latest Cabinet decision. These changes include the newly granted approval for exercise of the right of collective self-defense and the reconsideration of the ban on SDF actions that are inseparable from the use of force by other nations.
Public support essential
We hope Japan and the United States will work together to deepen their defense cooperation. Japan should increase SDF support for U.S. forces, and U.S. forces should be more significantly involved in the defense of remote islands and other parts of our country.
Drafting plans for military emergencies and repeating joint military exercises under the new defense cooperation guidelines will also function to shore up the Japan-U.S. alliance and increase the two nations’ combined deterrent potential.
Abe’s efforts to lift the self-imposed ban on our nation exercising its collective self-defense right has garnered support not only from the ruling parties, but from opposition lawmakers as well. The idea is endorsed by such opposition members as Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), Your Party and some members of the leading opposition Democratic Party of Japan. However, the DPJ’s top cadre remains noncommittal about whether to approve the exercise of the right, and has criticized Abe’s initiative in reinterpreting the nation’s fundamental law.
With the Cabinet’s decision completed, Abe should take every opportunity—ad-hoc parliamentary sessions that can be convened even during the the Diet’s recess, for example—to explain the significance of ending the ban on the collective self-defense right. It is crucial for the prime minister to make every effort to ensure that the public better understands the true meaning of revising the government’s official stance on the right.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 2, 2014)