The ruling Japanese coalition has this week has managed to move the issue of collective self-defense forward, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks a unified Cabinet decision by July 1. The LDP has been trying to get its junior partner New Komeito to agree to a stronger interpretation of the issue, which would for instance allow Japanese forces to take part in military action as part of an allied coalition. Despite New Komeito’s much smaller presence in the Diet, and thus weight in the coalition, it has blocked some of the LDP’s more militaristic proposals, possibly due to the rising unpopularity of collective self-defense with the public.
On Monday the LDP said that in order to advance negotiations, it would drop any mention of participating in collective security operations requiring military force, due to New Komeito’s consistent opposition to its inclusion, according to the Jiji Press. On Tuesday, the LDP conceded even more ground, presenting a new proposal to change its reinterpretation of Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist Constitution. During a press conference, Abe stated “We will press ahead thoroughly and intensively with discussions on a security-related legal framework between the ruling parties… and as responsible ruling parties that protect people’s lives and livelihood, we will make a decision firmly when the time comes.”
Concerning the parameters of collective self-defense, the LDP’s Vice President Masahiko Komura originally proposed that “Japan can wage military action when an attack on other country is feared to threaten the basis of Japan . . . there is no appropriate way to repeal these threats and protect those rights, and the action should remain within a minimum necessary scope,” the Japan Times reported. New Komeito however, was uncomfortable with the use of the phrases “another country” and “is feared to,” objecting that they did not clearly define the limitations of Self-Defense Forces’ operational ability.
The Abe government’s Tuesday draft was changed to say that the SDF could take action if an attack on “a country with a close relationship with Japan” would “clearly cast a danger” on Japan. It also amended the second condition, saying force can only be used if there is no alternative way to address those threats “to sustain the basis of the country, and protect Japanese citizens.”
While New Komeito’s Vice President Kazuo Kitagawa said the changes addressed his party’s concerns, the party also wants the Cabinet statement to include wording that most of the hypothetical security scenarios considered during their lengthy discussions can be taken care of without using collective self-defense. New Komeito is also unsure how they will be able to reach a final agreement by next Tuesday when the final draft won’t be submitted for them to review until this Friday.
It appears that although the LDP has had to make some concessions that provide greater definition to the concept of collective self-defense, it will be getting a large portion of its definition of the term included in the joint Cabinet statement, assuming the two parties can iron out the remaining details by early next week. Japan has received support from the U.S. and Australia for a strengthening of its regional security role, and during his meeting with Abe on Tuesday, Filipino President Benigno Aquino III also indicated he was in favor. Whether Abe can turn his regional support and coalition unity into popular support for collective self-defense remains to be seen.