Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged that Japan “will newly bear the flag of ‘proactive contribution to peace’” in a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 26. Japan will be “even more actively engaged in U.N. collective security measures, including peacekeeping operations,” Abe told the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly.
But what does “proactive contribution to peace” actually mean?
If Abe has only “U.N. collective security measures” in mind in promoting this policy concept, we can support the direction of his efforts.
The world body’s peacekeeping operations (PKOs) are representative of collective security measures under the leadership of the United Nations. Japan has been taking part in such U.N. peace-building activities in various parts of the world since the 1990s.
Although the United Nations has, in reality, not been performing its core functions in any satisfactory way, there are still feasible ways for Japan to expand its international contributions in this area.
The Self-Defense Forces could conceivably participate more actively in U.N. peacekeeping operations by widening the scope of their international missions.
It would be meaningful for the SDF to get involved in international efforts to build peace as a neutral and fair actor with the authorization of the United Nations and with a clear commitment to avoiding involvement in battles.
But we wonder if Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” is limited to such activities.
What is troubling is the fact that Abe, in a lecture he delivered at a conservative think tank in New York the day before his U.N. address, also talked about Japan’s proactive contribution to peace while discussing Japan’s participation in “collective security” efforts alongside the issue of “collective self-defense.”
For Japan, collective self-defense is a concept that is mainly related to its security alliance with the United States. The idea is completely different from collective security, which means cooperation for peace based on consensus within the international community.
In his lecture at the think tank, Abe stressed Japan’s commitment to playing a role that befits a major security ally of the United States under the framework of the U.S.-led security architecture.
The Abe administration is seeking to change the Japanese government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution with regard to Japan’s right to collective self-defense. This move is a policy response to China’s rapid military buildup and an attempt to enhance the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. security alliance.
This initiative would open the door to the SDF’s integrated support to U.S. forces, which operate globally. It could even pave the way for the SDF’s participation in multinational forces.
But can Japan’s deep involvement in U.S.-led military interventions in other parts of the world be described as an act of pacifism?
Japan has long espoused the pacifist creed based on Article 9 of the Constitution, under which it has refrained from direct involvement in military conflicts.
The SDF’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations under the restrictions set by the Constitution has drawn praise from the international community.
The rigorous pacifism Japan has been upholding for decades is one thing, and “proactive contribution to peace” involving the exercise of Japan’s right to collective self-defense is quite another.
Abe seems to be using the term “pacifism” only as a means to win public support for his attempt to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense by changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution concerning this issue.
Approval of Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense would amount to a radical change in Japan’s security policy.
Debate on this important issue should not be clouded by the use of the vague, if catchy, phrase of “proactive contribution to peace.”
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 28
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