The government’s move to reinterpret the Constitution to let Japan exercise the right of collective self-defense is a wrongheaded approach that ignores years of debate, a former head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau said.
“The issue of the right of collective self-defense is related to pacifism, which is one of the three main principles of the Constitution,” Masahiro Sakata, 69, said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun. “Diet debate on the Constitution has overwhelmingly concentrated on Article 9, and those deliberations have accumulated over the years.
“I have to question whether it is appropriate to ignore that accumulation and say that everything until now was totally wrong.”
Sakata was director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which provides opinions to Cabinet members on legal issues and examines all government-proposed legislation, from August 2004 until September 2006 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
As part of his move to change the interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed Ichiro Komatsu as the head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. Komatsu is a former career diplomat who supports revising the interpretation.
The right would allow Japan to counter an attack on an ally because that would be viewed as an attack on itself.
Japan has banned the exercise of the right of collective self-defense on grounds it would be unconstitutional because it would exceed the minimum required for the defense of the nation.
Previous administrations’ interpretations of the Constitution allow the Self-Defense Forces to conduct duties within the framework of Article 9, which prohibits the maintenance of war potential.
Sakata explained that the SDF has been allowed to exist because it is viewed as an organization designed to protect the Japanese people from an attack by a foreign nation.
“However, there is no leeway even if the Constitution was turned upside down that would allow the SDF to go beyond those limits and use military force abroad,” Sakata said.
He added that while debate on collective self-defense has often used examples of ballistic missiles headed for the United States flying over Japanese territory or of Maritime SDF ships helping U.S. Navy ships in open waters, the exercise of the right of collective self-defense would fundamentally mean having the SDF involved in fighting abroad.
If the Abe administration reinterprets the Constitution, the Diet and the public would not be directly involved in what would involve a major direction change for the pacifism that lies at the heart of the Constitution.
“As a nation based on the rule of law, the logical path in the event Article 9 no longer meets the needs of the current age would be to amend it,” Sakata said.
He added: “If the constitutional interpretation is to be changed, the minimum required is to have the Cabinet explain why that is necessary so that a majority of the public would be convinced. That is what politicians have to do.”
Sakata also said it would be wrong for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to view the huge victories in the July Upper House election and December Lower House election as a mandate for changing the interpretation regarding the right of collective self-defense.
“If they gained the popular will, the party should write legislation to implement policy rather than simply reinterpret the law,” Sakata said. “While amending the Constitution would involve even higher hurdles, the true course for politicians is to make the effort based on the rules established for a nation governed by law.
“‘Revising’ the Constitution through a new interpretation is wrong and would amount to an act of suicide as a legislative body.”
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