Having cleared some unfinished business from his previous leadership run, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set his sights on a dramatic policy change that he suggested was needed for Japan’s survival.
His Cabinet on Dec. 17 approved a new national security strategy, National Defense Program Guidelines and Mid-Term Defense Program. Those documents emphasize military capabilities by strengthening the Self-Defense Forces and the alliance with the United States.
But Abe’s long-term objective is to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense to deal with potential military problems concerning expansion-minded China and unpredictable North Korea.
“Can Japan accomplish the continued existence of the nation only through the exercise of the right of individual self-defense?” Abe said at a Dec. 17 meeting of an advisory panel tasked with reconstructing the legal foundation for national security. “We must think about whether exercising the right of collective self-defense is necessary.”
The panel confirmed it would start work in January on compiling a report to allow for such a change.
Specifically, Abe wants to rewrite the government’s decades-old interpretation of the pacifist Constitution to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense. Such a reinterpretation would allow Japan to launch counterstrikes when an ally comes under attack and could pave the way for the SDF’s participation in multinational forces.
But the process will not be easy. Junior coalition partner New Komeito opposes such a change, and a number of politicians want to uphold the pacifist ideals of the postwar Constitution.
“(Gaining approval to exercise the right) will be an issue we will have to deal with from the next fiscal year and beyond,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a Dec. 17 news conference.
Abe had sought to compile a national security strategy and set up a national security council during his first stint as prime minister. However, he resigned in September 2007 before accomplishing those goals.
Japan’s security council, modeled after the U.S. National Security Council, was established in December. It will follow the new national security strategy’s policy direction of “a proactive pacifism based on the principle of international cooperation.”
The national security strategy addressed concerns about China’s intrusion into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as well as its unilateral setting of an air defense identification zone in that region.
The strategy also indicated the need to sanction the right of collective self-defense. One goal in the document is “heightening the effectiveness of the Japan-U.S. national security framework and realizing a multifaceted Japan-U.S. alliance.”
The National Defense Program Guidelines, which provide the specific defense force to support the national security strategy, said “a defense force is the ultimate safeguard for national security, and it expresses the will and ability to eliminate threats.”
Reflecting Japan’s concerns about China, the National Defense Program Guidelines call for the establishment of an amphibious force modeled after the U.S. Marines that “would have the tactical ability to swiftly land on outlying islands that have been invaded and recapture and secure those islands.”
According to the guidelines, 52 amphibious vehicles similar to those used by the U.S. Marines and 17 Osprey transport aircraft will be procured to give the amphibious force greater capabilities to carry out its missions.
The amphibious force would be part of an integrated operation to deal with any invasion of an outlying island, SDF sources said.
Maritime SDF destroyers would fire rockets while Air SDF fighter jets would launch missiles to drive an enemy from the island. With such sea and air support, the amphibious force would land on the island using vehicles to regain control, according to the sources.
The core of the amphibious force will be the Western Army’s Infantry Regiment. Defense Ministry officials said future plans call for increasing the number of regiments that would be part of the amphibious force so that about 2,000 to 3,000 members will be ready to deal with any military encounter near the Senkaku Islands.
The increased mobility of such a force would allow the SDF to deal with neighboring nations with a military capability designed for actual fighting.
“By expressing Japan’s high capabilities and its will to defend itself, we will be able to prevent the worsening of the situation,” the guidelines said.
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