The Debate

The Truth About the Diet Security Legislation Debate

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The Debate

The Truth About the Diet Security Legislation Debate

Peace should be achieved through the Japanese Constitution, the UN Charter and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

The Truth About the Diet Security Legislation Debate
Credit: Japan SDF via YMZK-Photo /

The Japanese Diet is currently deliberating on legislation related to Japan’s security. As I have pointed out on many occasions since last July’s Cabinet decision to proceed with new security legislation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has failed to provide a logical explanation of why we need this legislation at this time. A year later, and still no convincing explanation has been forthcoming. Why not? Because the prime minister is concealing his real intention and trying to bluff his way through the Diet session by hiding behind fine-sounding words.

The most significant issue to consider with regard to Japan’s security is whether we should continue to keep the Japanese Constitution intact. In particular, we must consider how to interpret the renunciation of war set forth in Article 9 of the Constitution. Article 9 Clause 1 stipulates that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” In other words, Japan will not use the right to self-defense, whether individual or collective, as a means of resolving international disputes that have no direct connection to its national security. We should first discuss the new security legislation fully based upon this provision, the essence of our Constitution.

However, the legislation currently proposed follows in the wake of the revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, adopted on April 27 for the first time in 18 years. Not only does the new legislation eliminate the concept of “situations in areas surrounding Japan,” but it also combines with the Guidelines, which determine the course of action to be taken by Japan in the case of an armed attack made against a country other than Japan, to make it possible for Japan and the United States to engage in joint military action anywhere in the world. This is tantamount to acknowledging that it is acceptable for Japan to engage in activities involving the use of force in order to settle international disputes: a clear infringement of the Constitution

Ignoring the Constitution

Abe very likely intends to carry out a de facto revision of Article 9 of the Constitution by changing its interpretation. I believe that he wants to enable the Cabinet of the day to have a free hand in making the decision to dispatch the JSDF overseas, even if such a dispatch will have to meet a variety of conditions. However, the actions that the prime minister are now attempting to legislate are in fact only possible through a constitutional amendment. If Abe really wants to do this, then he should state clearly, “Article 9 Paragraph 1 is out of date and so should be amended” and call for the verdict of the Japanese people on this issue.

But the prime minister has not called directly for a constitutional amendment. Instead he has twisted the interpretation of the Constitution, submitted legislation based on this to the Diet and is playing word games by mouthing empty words in the debate. As a result, I believe that discussion of this issue is difficult for the general public to follow. I find it totally repugnant that a statesman could hoodwink the Japanese people in such a fashion. Moreover, this behavior is leading our nation in the wrong direction and placing the public at risk.

Our party’s stance on national security is based on the philosophy that the Constitution, the United Nations Charter, and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty combine to form the basis for Japan’s security without contradicting each other in any way. The Constitution makes no specific stipulation regarding the right to self-defense. This is because it is an inherent right that goes beyond the boundaries of the Constitution and, as stated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, is clearly permitted under international law. Consequently there is no need to make specific reference to the right to self-defense in the Constitution. Japan possesses the right to self-defense, both individual and collective and is able to use it.

But this is not to say that Japan is able to use the right to self-defense without restriction. According to Article 9 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution, the right to self-defense cannot be used as a means of settling international disputes that have no direct connection to the security of Japan. Japan can only use the right (1) when there is an imminent and unlawful infringement, in other words when Japan is under a direct armed attack, and (2) when, as set out in the current Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Areas Surrounding Japan, the security of Japan is threatened by, for example, a situation which if not dealt with may develop into a direct armed attack on Japan. Without amending the Constitution first, it is not possible to exercise the right to self-defense in conflicts that have no direct connection with the defense of Japan, as is proposed in the new security legislation.

Settling International Disputes

So how should Japan cooperate with the global community in the case of international disputes that do not involve a direct armed attack on Japan? Under the Constitution, Japan can maintain world peace by participating in a United Nations action that takes place in accordance with a U.N. resolution. The Preamble of the Constitution clearly proclaims that Japan will work for international peace as a member of the international community. Moreover, when Japan applied to join the United Nations we pledged to use whatever means necessary to fulfill the responsibilities set forth in the United Nations Charter.

Thus, the means that Japan is able to use for settling international disputes does not take the form of exercising the right to collective self-defense, but of contributing to U.N. actions that are taken in accordance with the philosophy of the Constitution and with the United Nations Charter. This comprises participation in the policing measures that form U.N. collective security. Since such participation does not amount to “war as a sovereign right of the nation” (Article 9), it is consistent with the Constitution.

Some critics claim that U.N.-centered diplomacy and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty are contradictory, but Article 5 of the Security Treaty states that any use of the right to self-defense by both Japan and the United States would be a temporary action that is terminated once the United Nations has taken the necessary measures. In other words, in the event that Japan is attacked by another nation, there will be a delay until the United Nations is able to take action. During that period, Japan and the United States will work jointly to repel the attack and protect Japan, based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. However, once the United Nations has passed a relevant resolution, Japan and the United States should act in accordance with that resolution. That is the meaning of Article 5 of the Security Treaty. One could describe this Article and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter as being two sides of the same coin.

As we can see, the Constitution, the U.N. Charter, and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty all coexist without contradicting each other. Japan should use this “trinity” to preserve its security and contribute to international peace. The four overarching principles of the Constitution – the sovereign power of the people, respect for basic human rights, pacifism, and international cooperation – are fundamental human values. I believe that it is precisely because we possess such a Constitution that Japan must work even harder than other nations to achieve such global ideals.

Ichiro Ozawa is a Japanese politician and president of the People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends.