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HOME  > Past issues  > 2007 July 25 - 31  > Advisory panel to give prime minister authority over constitutional interpretations on collective self-defense issues
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2007 July 25 - 31 [SDF]

Advisory panel to give prime minister authority over constitutional interpretations on collective self-defense issues

July 23, 2007
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s advisory panel led by former Ambassador to the U.S. Yanai Shunji at its third meeting on June 29 finished its first half of discussions on the exercise of the right of collective self-defense that past governments have deemed as unconstitutional.

The minutes of the panel meetings as well as sources familiar with the panel are indicating that the panel will give the prime minister authority over constitutional interpretations on collective self-defense issues.

Among the four scenarios that the prime minister had asked the panel to study, it has already completed studies of two scenarios: the Maritime Self-Defense Force counterattacks when U.S. warships are attacked on high seas; the SDF intercepts missiles heading for the U.S. The other two scenarios are: the SDF counterattacks when foreign troops are attacked with which the SDF is conducting joint operations in U.N. peacekeeping activities; the SDF provides logistic support to the U.S. forces in military conflicts.

The panel will submit as early as in September a proposal to allow the exercise of the right of collective-self defense.

A source pointed out that for the panel, allowing the exercise of the right of collective self-defense is a matter of course, saying “From the beginning, the panel has been tasked to change the interpretation regarding the right of collective self-defense under the current Constitution.”

“For Japan, not shooting down ballistic missiles heading to the U.S., even though it is possible, will undermine the basis of the Japan-U.S. security setup, the foundation of Japan’s national security, and this must be avoided,” said a member of the panel in its third meeting. Most of the panel members argue for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense without demonstrating the validity of their arguments.

In the second meeting, a member said although it was appropriate for Japan to have taken the position in the past of not exercising the right of collective self-defense, “such a position poses various problems today because of changes in the security environment.” Members are insisting that since the U.S. has changed its strategy, Japan should be allowed to exercise the right of collective self-defense in order to keep in step with the U.S. Such assertions have been made not as political discussions but as legal discussions.

The source described the Cabinet Legislation Bureau in charge of adjusting legal interpretations by the government as “the last forces of resistance to the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.” “The Cabinet Legislation Bureau is supposed to serve the cabinet, but the fact is that the bureau established a framework that successive cabinets have followed,” he said.

In the 1990s, the Japanese government began dispatching the SDF overseas to meet U.S. demands. In this situation, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau has come to adopt the interpretation that the SDF’s overseas dispatch is constitutional unless such activities become inseparable from the use of force.

The bureau, however, has maintained that the exercise of the right of collective self-defense is unconstitutional, thus certain limits are imposed on SDF activities.

In order to circumvent the limitations and realize a military alliance in which Japan can use force abroad on a par with the U.S., the panel is trying to enable the prime minister to change the constitutional interpretation without restraint by attacking the Cabinet Legislation Bureau as a “force of resistance to reform.”

Urata Ichiro, Meiji University Graduate School professor said, “Without giving serious consideration to the fact that the successive governments have been unable to go ahead with the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, the panel is trying to break from the current judgment on the grounds that the times have changed. This is an idea threatening the stability of standing laws and undermining the basis of constitutionalism.”

The panel will hold its next meeting on August 8. Prime Minister Abe, who reportedly intends to attend every meeting, is keeping a tight hold of power in order to implement the change in constitutional interpretations that will lead to constitutional revision.

However, the majority of the public is opposed to the exercise of the right of collective self-defense as was shown by the Tokyo Shimbun’s recent opinion poll in which more than 60 percent of respondents saw no need to change the current government interpretation. - Akahata, July 23, 2007
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