A 14-member Japanese panel said on Tuesday that a revision to Japan’s constitutional ban on collective defense will be possible should the government of Japan alter its current interpretation of the constitution, the Associated Press reports. The panel, headed by former Japanese ambassador to the United States Shunji Yanai discussed methods by which Japan can improve its defense capabilities and will issue a final recommendation in the coming weeks. The panel was created after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan’s self-imposed ban on collective self-defense would be reviewed.
Collective defense refers to an arrangement where participating states commit to support each other in the case of an attack by an outside state. For Japan, revising its stance on collective defense will have an important effect on its relationship with the United States. The two states share a security treaty and the U.S. fields a large military presence in Japan.
The news of the panel’s recommendations comes after Japan announced a new defense budget, a controversial state secrets law, and the creation of a national security council. Prime Minister Abe is in favor of normalizing Japan and supports the easing of Japan’s constitutional restrictions on military planning. Under Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, Japan is entitled to self-defense only and is unable to acquire military hardware that could be construed to aid in offensive activities. On Tuesday. Abe told the panel that “Japan’s preparation for national security threats in the region is not sufficient.” He added that Japan “must cover all the bases to protect the people’s lives and safety in any possible scenario.”
In a marked contrast from Abe and the panel, which is likely to recommend the revision to the collective defense provision, Japanese public opinion is largely in favor of maintaining the status quo on collective self-defense. A recent survey by Kyodo News found that more than half of the Japanese public oppose “Japan exercising the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack.” More than a third of respondents favored it. The survey also found that public approval of the kantei and Abe’s leadership edged up slightly, to 55.9 percent.
Neither LDP nor Abe possesses the requisite political capital to push a change to the nation’s age-old ban on collective defense. Should the panel recommend action, the LDP will have to coordinate with its political allies in the Diet. Already, the LDP and its ally the New Komeito party are engaged in discussions about the future of the collective defense ban. New Komeito’s leader Natsuo Yamaguchi remains pessimistic that the Diet will reach an agreement before its summer recess on June 22.
Should Abe push ahead on the committee’s recommendation, the process to lifting the ban on collective self-defense won’t be easy. Contrary to his first term in office, public opinion on Abe is maintaining some positive momentum thanks to the short-term successes of “Abenomics.” With a controversial consumption tax hike on the horizon, Abe could find public opinion towards him less sanguine. Abe’s plans for normalizing Japan’s defense posture do not have widespread public support.
A change to Japan’s ban on collective self-defense would have important ramifications for the international relations of northeast Asia, possibly prompting the United States to reconsider its current share of the defense burden with Japan. The move would also serve to increase anxieties about Japanese remilitarization in China.