Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear May 15 his government will lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, saying the change will help to prevent Japan from going to war.
After receiving a report from his private Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, Abe said his Cabinet will approve the necessary legal measures to allow Japan to exercise that right after the ruling coalition agrees to change the government’s traditional interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.
“From here on, the ruling parties will deliberate the issue with specific scenarios in mind and prepare legal measures that will allow consistent efforts to defend the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people,” Abe said at a news conference.
“While starting such deliberations is often misunderstood as an effort to make it possible for Japan to wage war again, I promise it will not happen,” the prime minister emphasized.
Opponents of the reinterpretation say the Abe government is moving the nation toward a wider military role that could lead to Japan becoming embroiled in conflicts overseas.
However, Abe said he will defend the pacifist principles of the Constitution.
“I believe legal preparations to enable Japan to counter any emergency situation will strengthen deterrence and prevent Japan from being involved in conflict and warfare,” Abe said.
As an example of a scenario in which Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense, according to Abe, Japan deploys the Self-Defense Forces to defend U.S. vessels that are evacuating Japanese citizens from a conflict area.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party will start discussions with junior coalition partner New Komeito on May 20 at the earliest on allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, sources said.
New Komeito has resisted the proposed change to the long-standing security policy, based on its pacifist background.
After receiving the advisory panel’s report on May 15, Abe convened a meeting of four ministerial members of the National Security Council to confirm the content of the “basic guideline.”
The prime minister could have called all nine NSC members, which would include land minister Akihiro Ota of New Komeito, but Abe opted for the smaller meeting to prevent the coalition partner from interfering with the process.
Deliberations within the ruling coalition will have five participants from each party, including LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, New Komeito Secretary-General Yoshihisa Inoue, and New Komeito deputy chief Kazuo Kitagawa.
New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi on May 14 reiterated his cautious stance against constitutional reinterpretation, saying more important issues should be discussed in the current Diet session.
“If the ruling coalition is viewed to be spending too much political energy on the issue of the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, it will disappoint the general public,” Yamaguchi said.
As a concession to New Komeito, the two parties plan to first deliberate on so-called gray zone situations concerning the deployment of the SDF, government sources said.
New Komeito officials have argued that rather than discuss collective self-defense in the Diet, priority should be placed on clarifying laws that have no provisions regarding SDF deployment in gray zone situations.
Such situations involve incidents that cannot be defined as a military attack from a foreign country requiring SDF action. Possible scenarios include the landing of an armed group on the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea or a foreign submarine refusing orders to leave Japan’s territorial waters.
Current SDF laws contain no provisions allowing the SDF to engage such opposition.
New Komeito is willing to discuss the creation of legal regulations permitting SDF deployment in gray zone situations because it would not require a reinterpretation of the Constitution.
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