When a country comes under attack, its allies can regard it as an attack against themselves and try to stop it by using military force under the Charter of the United Nations, which grants the right of collective self-defense to member countries.
The government has been taking the position that Japan does not exercise this right, a universal right of every country, because of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is showing a willingness to initiate a review of the government’s current interpretation of the Constitution concerning this issue.
We don’t know, however, whether he is trying to make it possible for Japan to fully exercise the right of collective self-defense. It is also unclear what his real aim is.
But Japan’s most basic defense policy principle in the postwar era has been that Article 9 of the Constitution allows it to exercise only the minimum necessary right of self-defense. This constitutional principle has ensured that Japan keeps a safe distance from the U.S. military, which engages in military operations all over the world.
Japan should remain firmly committed to this principle.
Noda’s move was apparently prompted by an advisory panel’s call for a review of the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.
In response to the proposal, Noda said before the Diet that he intended to have detailed discussions on the issue within the government while taking account of the proposal.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party announced at around the same time an outline of the bill it plans to introduce for enacting a “national security basic law.” The bill would allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense. The move is in line with the party’s traditional position on the issue.
In a book he wrote in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan was still in opposition, Noda said, “Unless this issue is resolved, we should not discuss dispatching the Self-Defense Forces abroad.”
Since he became prime minister, however, Noda has been refraining from voicing his opinion about this politically sensitive issue apparently to avoid provoking angry responses within the Japanese public and in neighboring countries.
Why has he changed his attitude?
Since the bills for integrated tax and social security reform, his administration’s key policy initiative, have passed through the Lower House, he may be feeling confident about tackling the next big policy challenge.
With his administration’s power base shaken by massive defections from the DPJ, Noda is probably seeking to strengthen his party’s cooperation with the LDP.
If so, we believe he is dealing with the issue thoughtlessly.
Noda’s move concerning this issue is only the latest example of his administration’s enthusiasm about expanding Japan’s security cooperation with the United States.
Late last year, the administration eased the nation’s three principles regarding arms exports.
During their meeting at the end of April, Noda and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed on joint military drills in Guam and the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and use of Japan’s official development assistance to provide patrol vessels to countries like the Philippines.
It is clear there has not been sufficient Diet debate on these issues during the period.
If Noda’s remarks about Japan’s right of collective self-defense are a result of gradual integration of Japan’s defense policy with the U.S. military strategy without clear policy decisions, Japan is in a very dangerous situation.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 19
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