World View: Japan Debates 'Collective Self-Defense' to Protect America, Japan

World View: Japan Debates 'Collective Self-Defense' to Protect America, Japan

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Japan’s pacifist constitution limits much military activity
  • Japan debates ‘collective self-defense’ to protect America and Japan

Japan’s pacifist constitution limits much military activity

After the end of World War II, Japan adopted a ‘pacifist’constitution, at U.S. insistence, that prohibited any military actionexcept in response to a direct attack on Japan itself. According toJapan’s Ministry of Defense:

“After World War II, Japan has resolved to ensure thatthe horrors of war will never be repeated and has ever since madetenacious efforts to establish itself as a pacific nation. Theestablishment of eternal peace is a sincere wish shared by theJapanese people. The Constitution of Japan, upholding pacifism,sets forth in Article 9 the renunciation of war, non-possession ofwar potential and denial of the right of belligerency of thestate. Since Japan is an independent state, it is recognizedbeyond doubt that the provision in the article does not deny theinherent right of self-defense that Japan is entitled to maintainas a sovereign nation.

Thus the self-defense right of Japan is not denied, and therefore,the Government of Japan interprets the Constitution as beingallowed to possess and maintain the minimum level of armedstrength for self-defense necessary to ensure that Japan exercisesthe right. On the basis of such understanding, the government hasadopted an exclusively defense-oriented policy as its basic policyof national defense, has maintained the Self-Defense Forces as anarmed organization and has taken steps to improve theircapabilities and conduct their operations under theConstitution. …

The self-defense capability to be possessed and maintained byJapan under the Constitution is limited to the minimum necessaryfor self-defense. …

But in any case in Japan, it is unconstitutional to possess whatis referred to as offensive weapons that, from their performance,are to be used exclusively for total destruction of othercountries, since it immediately exceeds the minimum levelnecessary for self-defense. For instance, the SDF is not allowedto possess ICBMs, long-range strategic bombers or offensiveaircraft carriers. …

The Three Non-Nuclear Principles are those of not possessingnuclear weapons, not producing them and not allowing them to bebrought into Japan. Japan firmly maintains the principles as thefixed line of national policy.”

Under international law, if a nation’s ally is attacked by anothercountry, then the nation may use its armed forces in defense of itsally. This is known as “collective self-defense,” and it particularlycan be invoked by either of two countries that have a mutual defenseagreement, such as the mutual defense agreement signed by Japan andthe United States. However, collective self-defense is prohibited inJapan’s constitution:

“Under international law, there is recognition that astate has the right of collective self-defense, that is, the rightto use armed strength to stop armed attack on a foreign countrywith which it has close relations, although the state is not underdirect attack. It is beyond doubt that as a sovereign state, Japanhas the right of collective self-defense under internationallaw. It is, however, not permissible to use the right, that is, tostop armed attack on another country with armed strength, althoughJapan is not under direct attack, since it exceeds the limit ofuse of armed strength as permitted under Article 9 of theConstitution.”

Japan Ministry of Defense, Part I and Part II andPart IIIand Asahi Shimbun

Japan debates ‘collective self-defense’ to protect America and Japan

The issue of amending the constitution to allow more kinds of militaryaction has split Japan politically for decades, but it’s particularlyheating up now for several reasons:

  • Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe has long wanted to amend the constitution.
  • China has been increasingly belligerent in the East China Sea, particularly over the Senkaku/Daioyu islands, and North Korea has threatened Japan with missile attacks. The military says that it needs more flexible options to deter threatened attacks.
  • Japanese law appears to contradict itself. Japan and the U.S. have a mutual defense treaty, but if an American ship were attacked near Japanese waters, Japan would not be able to defend it, because of the prohibition against collective self-defense.

Amending the Japanese constitution would be a difficult andtime-consuming process, so Shinzo Abe is supporting a workaround:Reinterpret the meaning of the phrase “collective self-defense”so in many cases, formerly prohibited activities would beinterpreted as being permitted as Japan’s individualself-defense. For example, an attack on U.S. warships nearJapanese waters could be construed as a prelude to an attackon Japan itself.

Abe says that this change is essential for the survival of Japan.Opponents say that approving the exercise of the right to collectiveself-defensive is a “slippery slope” that will keep expanding topermit additional non-defense military activity.

Japan News and Asahi Shimbun and Japan News

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