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Abe’s wrongheaded move
Publication Date : 13-08-2013
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken another step toward allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defence, causing concern in Japan and neighbouring countries.
Abe recently appointed Ambassador to France Ichiro Komatsu to head the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which advises Cabinet members on legal issues and examines the government’s legislative proposals.
The appointment is widely seen as reflecting Abe’s intention to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on engaging in collective self-defence in an expedient way, that is, simply by changing the government’s interpretation of Japan’s constitution instead of amending the constitution itself.
Komatsu is known to be in favour of changing the current interpretation of the “no war” clause of Article 9 in the Japanese constitution.
The Tokyo government has thus far interpreted the clause as denying Japan the right of collective self-defence, which refers to a country’s right to use military power to defend an ally if it is under attack, even if the country itself is not attacked.
Abe’s move toward scrapping this traditional interpretation is cause for grave concern as it would ultimately allow Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to use military force abroad for purposes other than self-defence.
Masahiro Sakata, a former head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, rightly warned that allowing Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defence “would fundamentally mean having the SDF involved in fighting abroad”.
Sakata notes that this issue is related to pacifism, one of the three main principles of Japan’s constitution. As such, the logical way for Japan to deal with the issue is to amend the constitution.
Calling Abe’s move “a wrongheaded approach”, Sakata warns that any attempt to revise the constitution through a new interpretation “would amount to an act of suicide as a legislative body”.
Another Japanese politician, Social Democratic Party secretary-general Seiji Mataichi, called Abe’s reinterpretation attempt “Nazi style”, as referred to by Finance Minister Taro Aso, who suggested that Japan learn from the Nazis’ approach to changing the German constitution in the 1930s.
Despite these criticisms, Abe has already secured enough seats in the Diet to push through his reinterpretation bill.
The Japanese prime minister, however, has one thing to do before going ahead with his project. He should first face up to Japan’s history and seek true reconciliation with the victims of Japan’s past militarism by offering them a genuine apology.
Even if Abe manages to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defence, either by revising or by reinterpreting the constitution, there will be little room for Japan to maneuver if it fails to win confidence from its neighbouring countries.