JAPAN TAKES A STEP FORWARD ON DEFENSE POLICY REFORM
By Michael J. Green, Nicholas Szechenyi
03 Jul 14. On July 1 the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced defense policy reforms, including measures that would allow Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) to exercise the right of collective self-defense and aid allies under attack. The cabinet decision is a significant step in the evolution of Japanese defense policy and involves a revised interpretation of the Japanese Constitution by the Cabinet Legal Bureau in order to enhance defense cooperation with the United States and other like-minded countries for the purposes of Japan’s own national security. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the policy in a press conference and stressed the importance of deterrence in response to a rapidly changing security environment, but also noted that the exercise of collective self-defense would be limited to the minimum level necessary consistent with longstanding principles on the use of force. The government is expected to submit requisite legislation to the Diet (parliament) for deliberation during the next legislative session scheduled for this fall.
Q1: What is in the new policy?
A1: The Abe Cabinet decision is based on a review of the legal basis for security policy and informed by the findings of an advisory panel submitted to the government in May 2014. The July 1 Cabinet decision notes the need to bolster Japan’s defense capabilities and introduces initiatives under three main categories: responses to infringements in so-called “gray zone” areas that fall short of armed attack; furthering contributions to international peace and security; and measures for self-defense permitted under Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Article 9 renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and prohibits the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes, but previous governments have reinterpreted that clause to allow the limited use of force for self-defense and revise security policy incrementally as developments warranted. The Abe Cabinet decision mirrors the interpretations of previous administrations in stating that measures of self-defense are permitted under Article 9 when an armed attack against Japan occurs, there is no other means available to repel an attack and ensure Japan’s security, and the use of force is limited to the minimum extent necessary. Though Japan has an inherent right to collective self-defense under international law (and specifically the UN Charter), legal specialists in the government have heretofore rejected that right as exceeding the “minimum extent necessary.” Rebutting this long held view, the Abe cabinet concluded that measures of collective self-defense are also permitted when an attack on a country in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result threatens Japan’s security and the people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as prescribed elsewhere in the constitution. This represents a new interpretation of Article 9 recommended by the advisory panel, though the details of this policy are subject to debate in the Diet. The government will stipulate in draft legislation that in principle prior approval of the Diet will be required to exercise collective self-defense in line with existing procedures for other SDF operations.
Q2: How significant is this development?
A2: The announcement indicates a change in Japanese strategic culture. The current security policy debate centered on the importance of deterrence and increased cooperation with other partners in response to new security challenges contrasts sharply with deliberations at the outset of the Cold War when many Japanese strategists feared the bilateral security treaty with the United States would entrap Japan in foreign wars. At that time, Article 9 was used by many political leaders as an obstruction against entrapment in Cold War conflicts and insurance that Japan could focus on ec