EDITORIAL: Collective self-defense a question of whether Japan can go to war

May 16, 2014

A private advisory panel submitted a report to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 15, calling on the government to take steps to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

The report drafted by the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security said the government should change the traditional interpretation of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution that prohibits Japan from taking part in collective self-defense, as maintained by successive Cabinets.

After receiving the report, Abe announced the start of a political process, including talks between the ruling coalition parties, to make it possible for Japan to use its right to collective self-defense.

USING SELF-DEFENSE RIGHT MEANS WAR

Successive Cabinets have shared a view that Japan has to revise the Constitution before it is allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Any amendment to the Constitution must be approved by the public in a special referendum under procedures stipulated in Article 96 of the Constitution. However, Abe is trying to skip this procedure and make a fundamental shift in Japan’s postwar pacifist policy only through talks among the ruling parties and a Cabinet decision.

His move represents a radical departure from the principle of constitutionalism under which a government is based on a Constitution and could have seriously harmful effects on the nation.

First of all, Abe’s plan will fundamentally change Japan’s postwar pacifism, which emerged after serious national soul-searching about World War II.

The proposed change will pave the way for the use of armed force by the Self-Defense Forces in situations where Japan is not under attack. That means Japan could join in a war that has not been directly waged against it.

The advisory panel has set some conditions for Japan’s exercise of its right to collective self-defense. The report says Japan can use the right only in situations where its safety could be seriously threatened and only if it has received an explicit request or consent (from the country that has been attacked).

But none of these conditions can be a clear and effective restriction because they are either a simple assumption or a norm under international law.

This is simply a question of whether or not Japan exercises its right to collective self-defense. Both Abe and the panel emphasize that Japan should be allowed to use the right for a minimum required level of defense. But such a quantitative notion is meaningless.

The moment Japan exercises the right, this nation becomes the enemy of the other country involved.

Also, changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution would amount to approving a distorted form of governance that effectively puts the Constitution under the Cabinet’s control.

This prospect inevitably raises concerns that even the basic principles of the Constitution, such as popular sovereignty and respect for fundamental human rights, could be affected by the intentions of the government. That means Japan will no longer be able to claim to be a nation under the rule of law.

Moreover, the Abe administration’s move to forcibly make a virtual constitutional amendment by reinterpreting the Constitution while failing to take effective steps to improve Japan’s relations with its neighbors will exacerbate the already high tensions in East Asia.

UNACCEPTABLE DOUBLE STANDARDS

Abe’s remarks at the May 15 news conference were difficult to understand.

In addition to calling for changing the government’s position on Japan’s right to collective self-defense, the advisory panel urged the administration to change its interpretation of the Constitution to adopt the position that there are no constitutional restrictions on the use of armed force by the SDF under the United Nations framework of collective security.

Abe refused to accept this proposal, saying it is “logically inconsistent with the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution.”

By the same token, the proposal to allow Japan to use its right to collective self-defense is also inconsistent with the government’s traditional interpretation of Article 9.

Even so, Abe invoked the government’s constitutional theory, announced in 1972, that Japan is not prohibited by the Constitution from taking measures for self-defense that are necessary to maintain its peace and safety and ensure its existence. He then claimed that the argument that Japan should be allowed to engage in collective self-defense operations is based on the government’s “basic stance.”

But in 1972, the government said, following the statement quoted by Abe, that the Constitution banned Japan from exercising its right to collective self-defense. Accepting the panel’s proposal without referring to this fact can only be described as deception using double standards.

Will lawmakers of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, accept such a transparent sham in their talks over the proposal? We cannot take our eyes off the political process.

DO NOT REMOVE ARTICLE 9 RESTRICTIONS

Besides the question of exercising the right to collective self-defense, the panel’s report also deals with other related issues, including whether and when SDF troops should be allowed to use weapons while taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations and how to respond to intrusions into Japanese territories and territorial waters that are not regarded as armed attacks.

The panel’s argument that there are no constitutional restrictions on the SDF’s use of weapons during peacekeeping operations is totally unacceptable. But it is true that these issues demand careful discussions.

As for the SDF’s use of weapons overseas, the government has been walking on a tightrope in interpreting the Constitution and enacting related legislation in its efforts to respond to international calls for Japan’s active involvement in peacekeeping operations without violating the pacifist principles of Article 9. It is true that this pursuit of mutually conflicting goals has led to some serious inconsistencies concerning the SDF’s peacekeeping activities.

But this is a restriction Japanese people have imposed on themselves out of their respect for Article 9 of the Constitution.

Few would dispute the need to make more efforts to figure out ways to solve the problems related to the inconsistencies. Obviously, however, measures to be considered should be limited by the restrictions imposed by Article 9 unless the Constitution is amended.

Abe appears intent on using his initiative to enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense as a breakthrough in his quest to eventually remove all restrictions imposed by Article 9.

If this is the principal goal of Abe’s political agenda for the nation’s “break away from the postwar regime,” it is unacceptable.

For what purpose should Japan be allowed to use its right to collective self-defense? What should be done to ensure Japan’s security and enhance its contribution to international peace? The goals of the government’s security policy and the means to achieve them should be the right ones.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 16

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a news conference on May 15 (Shogo Koshida)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a news conference on May 15 (Shogo Koshida)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a news conference on May 15 (Shogo Koshida)

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