Masahiko Komura, vice president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and former foreign minister, visited Washington and met with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday. At their meeting, Carter praised Japan’s recent efforts to develop a new legal framework to better defend Japan in an increasingly uncertain East Asia. Komura explained to Carter that the Japanese government wants to be able to exercise the now constitutionally recognized right to collective defense to defend U.S. warships attacked in contingencies that have a security impact on Japan, such as a Korean peninsula crisis.
The new framework would also provide the legal basis for the revisions expected in the Bilateral Defense Guidelines. The Guidelines clarify the roles and expectations for U.S. military and Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) cooperation in a contingency. The Guidelines were last updated in 1997.
On Friday, Komura gave a speech at the U.S.-Japan Security Seminar 2015 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In his speech, he offered a concise history and clear defense of the Cabinet decision to reinterpret the Constitution last July. The Constitution is ultimately a contract with the people to defend their lives and happiness, Komura argued. Therefore, it is illogical for anything in the Constitution to constrict the government’s ability to defend the state’s very survival.
Komura then laid out the dilemma the Cabinet faced: in Japan’s current security environment, a single-minded focus on a literal interpretation of the Constitution may not be adequate to protect the lives of the people, but at the same time, the government must not overzealously pursue security in such a way as to violate the sanctity of the Constitution. The middle ground is to figure out the minimum degree to which Japan must be prepared to use force in order to successfully protect the Japanese people. Collective self-defense is a minimum condition that Japan must have to be able to defend itself and expect the cooperation of allies and partners in its defense, Komura concluded.
Collective self-defense is not limited to the U.S. either. Japan is willing to cooperate with any state to do the minimum needed to protect the people’s livelihood. How collective self-defense will be invoked in various crises will depend on the impact the situation has on Japan’s security.
The Constitution should not be used to protect “pacifism” at the expense of peace and people’s lives, Komura argued. For Japan’s peace and the world’s peace, Japan needs to be more ready to play a proactive role. The current security legislation is an effort to provide the legal basis for this reinterpretation so that there can be a “seamless” response to various scenarios ranging from “gray zone” contingencies to full-scale military clashes.
Japan’s legislature will be taking up this issues in the coming months. The regular Diet session may be extended beyond June 24 if extra time is needed to pass the security legislation.