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Japanese govt wants sea lanes part of self-defence

Publication Date : 30-12-2013


Japan wants to join patrols of vital sea lanes with foreign forces and launch counter attacks if ships of other nations come under attack


Japan should be able to exercise the right to collective self-defence, in the event that a “grave situation that concerns the security of Japan” emerges while Self-Defence Force (SDF) ships, for example, are participating in joint patrols of key sea lanes for transporting crude oil and other essential items, says an outline of a report to be compiled by a government panel.

The outlines were unveiled by Shinichi Kitaoka, acting chairman of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The government panel, chaired by former Ambassador to the United States Shunji Yanai, has been studying how the government should change its interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution, which currently prohibits Japan from exercising its right to collective self-defence.

“We should provide full support to [foreign forces] when the circumstances are closely tied to the security of Japan,” Kitaoka said. “Japan can’t defend itself without protecting its close partners.”

A new constitutional interpretation under the study would stipulate that exercising the right to collective self-defence in the event that Japan’s security is at stake would not exceed the bounds of the “minimum action necessary” to defend the nation, Kitaoka said.

In an answer in the Diet on May 29, 1981, the government said the exercise of the right to self-defence condoned under Article 9 should be “within the range of minimum action necessary to defend the nation.” But under this interpretation, which remains in place today, exercising the right to collective self-defence would exceed that range.

If the new interpretation is adopted, the SDF would be allowed to participate in joint patrols of vital sea lanes with foreign forces and launch counter attacks if ships of other nations came under attack. Japan would also be able to provide arms and ammunition or logistical support to U.S. forces in combat areas should an emergency occur near Japan.

According to Kitaoka, the panel members unanimously agreed that there should be conditions for allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defence. For example, it should be exercised only when a nation with which Japan has close ties has unjustly come under attack and asks for Japan’s cooperation.

Furthermore, the panel has deemed that Japan’s participation in UN peacekeeping activities does not constitute the use of force as a sovereign right of the nation, which is banned under Article 9. It plans to propose allowing SDF troops to use arms during rescue operations of Japanese nationals or foreign troops in distant locations from their posts.

The panel is scheduled to submit a report on constitutional interpretation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as early as April.

In-line with international norm

Japan’s security standards should be in-line with the international norm that calls for protecting itself from armed attacks in cooperation with its allies and the international community. This is the thinking behind the government’s Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security in considering a new constitutional interpretation that would allow the nation to exercise the right to collective self-defence.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to make a final judgment on the issue next summer after the panel submits its report around April.

Some critics say that allowing Japan to exercise this right would result in SDF troops fighting a war with the US military on the other side of the world. Of course, after exercising the right is condoned, the government should make decisions based on national interests to avoid being implicated in an unnecessary war.

The new interpretation will put restrictions on exercising the right. First and foremost, it should be exercised only in the event of a grave situation that concerns Japan’s security.

The report’s outlines make clear that “exercising the right to collective self-defence is not an obligation, and that the government at the time will decide whether to exercise the right by thoroughly assessing the merits and demerits,” as Kitaoka puts it.


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