EDITORIAL: Diet must debate constitutionality of new security legislation
The new national security legislation expanding the scope of Japan’s military operations took effect on March 29.
The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, rammed the legislation through the Diet in September in the face of anxiety and opposition among many citizens and criticism by constitutional scholars that it is unconstitutional. The controversial set of laws is now in force.
The legislation, composed of two statutes incorporating the content of 11 bills, significantly expands the scope of Self-Defense Forces operations outside Japan. It allows Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense by changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.
It also enables the SDF to provide logistical support to the forces of the United States and other countries and engage in a wider range of United Nations peacekeeping operations.
The Abe administration railroaded the broad security legislation through just one session of the Diet. Many observers say Abe was in a rush to get the legislation passed because he promised in his April 29 address to a Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress to “achieve” the legislative reform “by this coming summer.”
After the legislation passed the Diet, Abe said he would “make tenacious efforts to explain” it to the public. But he has failed to deliver on his promise.
The Diet debate on related issues since then has been far from sufficient.
CASTING A WIDE NET
This situation represents a crisis of Japan’s constitutionalism, which means the government’s power is defined and limited by the Constitution. This extraordinary and dangerous situation must not be allowed to continue.
The “unconstitutional” legislation, not based on broad public consensus, should be rectified. It is necessary to sort out the content of the legislation so that at least the unconstitutional parts will be repealed. The Diet, especially the opposition camp, needs to play a vital role in this undertaking.
The Abe administration has maintained that the legislation is constitutional because it only allows Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense in limited situations.
On the other hand, the administration has continued giving equivocal answers at the Diet to questions about the limits to the exercise of this right by Japan in an apparent attempt for the government to secure as much discretion as possible in assessing situations.
This will allow the government in power to interpret the scope of the limits in any manner it chooses.
The administration’s move to make it possible for Japan to engage in collective self-defense operations was prompted primarily by the challenge of countering the growing military power of China through enhancing the deterrence provided by Japan’s security alliance with the United States.
Here’s the idea behind the move. Japan needs to ensure that U.S. forces will maintain their presence in the Asia-Pacific region while compensating for the relative decline in U.S. military power by enhancing the SDF and expanding its security cooperation with other countries in the region.
The legislation is designed to allow the SDF to operate in wide areas outside Japan by eliminating a broad range of obstacles and impediments to the SDF’s joint operations with U.S. forces.
This approach can be likened to casting a wide net to catch as many fish in as wide an area as possible.
This means the SDF will expand its joint military drills, information sharing and cooperation concerning military equipment with the forces of the United States and other countries. Such efforts will be made not just during security emergencies but in peacetime as well.
ARTICLE 9 AS BASIS FOR DIALOGUE
The problem is that the administration, to achieve its security policy goals, has relaxed the restrictions that the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution had imposed on the SDF’s overseas operations.
At the end of February, the Commission on the Future of the Alliance, a study group comprising Japanese and American experts including Richard Armitage, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, released a report titled “The U.S.-Japan Alliance to 2030.”
Stressing the importance for Tokyo and Washington to have a coordinated China strategy, the report urged Japan to “have fully funded, modern and highly capable military forces” and called on the two countries to “at least coordinate, and if possible integrate, their policies and actions elsewhere in Asia and beyond.”
This is a clear call for integrating the two nations’ security policy development and execution in all aspects, including defense budgeting.
But the national interests of the United States don’t necessarily coincide exactly with those of Japan with regard not only to how to respond to China’s rise but also to other key issues.
The question facing Japan is if it can decline any strong security policy request from the United States, which has a history of launching misguided wars.
Abe has said that Japan will make its own independent decisions as to whether it should exercise its right to collective self-defense. But will this be really possible for Japan when the effectiveness of Article 9 as a protection against the risk of becoming involved in overseas conflict has been seriously undermined?
Japan should be well aware of the fact that the United States, while wary about China’s military buildup, has been working eagerly to build sturdy multiple channels of dialogue with the country.
To protect its own peace, Japan should also pursue close dialogue and a broad range of cooperation with China.
The Abe administration, however, has been focusing its security policy efforts on bolstering Japan’s alliance with the United States, allowing erosion in the human interactions underpinning the bilateral ties with China.
Given Japan’s geographical proximity to China and the complicated and troubled history of their bilateral relations, the Japanese government needs to perform a delicate balancing act in dealing with its neighboring giant.
Japan should restrain itself from getting embroiled in U.S. military actions and stick to its traditional strictly defensive security policy to avoid an arms race with China. The functions of Article 9 can, and should, serve as a foundation for Japan’s efforts to strike a proper balance between deterrence and dialogue.
DIET HAS A VITAL ROLE TO PLAY
An Upper House election will be held this summer. Simultaneous polls of both chambers of the Diet appear to be in the cards.
In a move with significant political implications, the Abe administration has decided to postpone until after the Upper House poll some important new steps based on the security legislation. They include expanding the scope of Japan’s peacekeeping missions to allow SDF personnel to come to the assistance of members of U.N. and private-sector organizations and other countries’ troops who have come under attack during such operations. The administration has also delayed the introduction of a bill to revise Japan’s Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement with the United States to expand the SDF’s logistic support for U.S. forces.
The Abe administration is again concentrating its political energy on economic issues before a key election with a clear intention to shift the focus of its policy discourse to security topics after the poll. The administration adopted the same strategy for its initiatives to enact the state secrets protection law and the security legislation.
This time, too, the administration will try to push through the related measures all at once if the ruling camp is victorious in the election.
The Abe administration has taken a series of foreign and security policy measures aimed at concentrating power in the hands of the government. They include the enactment of the state secrets protection law and the creation of the National Security Council.
That has made it all the more important for the Diet to perform its function of checking the actions of the executive branch. But the Diet’s performance has been deeply disappointing.
The Diet has not even bothered to consider the joint opposition bill to repeal the security legislation or the counterproposals made by the opposition parties. This fact is a clear and undeniable sign that the Diet has become dysfunctional.
The opposition parties have a crucial mission to carry out. They need to expand electoral cooperation among themselves and strengthen their solidarity with citizens.
They also have to protect the nation’s constitutionalism and redress the “unconstitutional” legislation. The mission requires fresh and serious debate on the future of politics in this nation.