Editorial: Approval of exercise of right of collective defense

Trampling on pacifism

The pacifism in Japan’s Constitution, which lays out the nation’s renunciation of war and military capability, has reached a major turning point.

Yesterday, the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), the government passed a Cabinet resolution that changes the interpretation of the Constitution to make it possible to exercise the right of collective self-defense.

The many lives lost throughout Asia and at home in the last war forced Japan to reflect on its conduct. As a result, in its Constitution Japan prohibited the use of force and renounced war. This Cabinet resolution waters down that spirit.

Future problems

Furthermore, the administration’s de facto distortion of the supreme law of the land by reinterpreting it is extremely dangerous.

The Abe administration has said it plans to introduce related legislation. Of course, there is a need for debate on the Constitution and security, but is it acceptable to allow this source of trouble to remain?

The Cabinet resolution must be retracted, and the debate must start afresh.

At a press conference following passage of the resolution, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the move would “foil any effort to wage war against Japan” and that “there would be less risk of Japan becoming involved in a war” as a result.

Isn’t this mere sophistry? Exercise of the right of collective defense means defending not only your own country but other countries as well and opens the door to attack by a third country. Even if the use of force is “limited to instances in which there is no other recourse and is kept to a minimum,” the risk of becoming involved in a war only increases and will hardly be eliminated.

The Cabinet resolution is full of other ambiguous and dangerous wording.

The new conditions that were established for the use of force are a typical example. The government says that the use of force will be limited to situations in which there is “a clear danger” that the nation’s existence or the rights of its citizens will be fundamentally threatened. But this is very abstract. The interpretation of the Constitution can be broadened as much as one likes, and there is room for the scope of the use of force to be expanded.

We must get back to the principles of the Constitution.

The first paragraph of Article 9 forever renounces war, while the second paragraph stipulates that war potential will never be maintained. Postwar Japan’s ability to maintain peace and to sustain its economic development owe a great deal to the citizenry’s support of the supreme law of the land and the international trust that Japan has earned as a peace-loving nation.

May lead to tensions

But now the government is going to loosen those restrictions and make it possible for the nation to go to war. Despite what the prime minister said, the public will inevitably sense the risk of heightened tensions with neighboring nations.

At yesterday’s press conference, the prime minister made no direct reference to revisions to Article 9. Because the formalities will take time, the debate may settle down for a while. But the Liberal Democratic Party has demonstrated a willingness to revise the Constitution right from the start. There is no denying that there may be heightened calls to exploit the resolution for this purpose.

Without question the SDF’s situation has changed over the past 20 years or so. After the 1991 Gulf War, the SDF participated in minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf. And during the Iraq War, which began in 2003, the SDF dispatched ground troops in the name of reconstruction assistance.

The Cabinet resolution may spark pressure to gradually alter the role of the SDF. If the right of collective defense is in fact exercised, there will without a doubt be more occasions on which SDF members will carry weapons overseas and face life-threatening situations. Does the public share an awareness of this scenario?

More people in Hiroshima must speak out. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said, “It’s hard to believe that concerns about the unlimited expansion of the use of force have been adequately dispelled.”

Concern about deterrence

Hiroshima is most concerned about Mr. Abe’s contention that the exercise of the right of collective defense will serve as a deterrent. No matter how firmly Japan adheres to the three non-nuclear principles or argues that it will take the lead in the effort to abolish nuclear weapons, the nation’s reliance on America’s nuclear deterrence for its security remains unchanged.

And the more the government stresses the notion of relying on deterrence, the more suspicions there are that Japan has its own nuclear arms. That is a big reason why many atomic bomb survivors and other citizens cannot help but be skeptical.

Over the years the A-bomb survivors have embraced the cause of peace and a desire to seek resolution rather than conflict. This behavior on the part of our country, which tramples on that spirit, is completely unacceptable.

(Originally published on July 2, 2014)