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Tokyo seeking expansion of SDF role

Publication Date : 17-01-2013

 

The Japanese government plans to discuss with the United States how the nations' bilateral alliance should be reshaped if Japan changes its interpretation of the Constitution concerning the nation's right to collective self-defence, according to sources.

The issue will be discussed in parallel with the revision of the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation, both of which are aimed at strengthening the Japan-US alliance.

In particular, the government wants to sound out Washington on whether the new guidelines should stipulate an expansion of Self-Defence Forces (SDF)' activities, such as having the SDF repel potential armed attacks on US vessels during joint exercises and other cooperative activities. This would be possible if Japan were allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defence.

Tokyo and Washington are scheduled to begin discussions on revising the defence cooperation guidelines today at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo. Division chief-level officials will take part in the talks.

The two governments will discuss revising the guidelines with China's military buildup in mind. The discussions are expected to take at least a year, about the same time it took to draw up the latest version of the guidelines in 1997.

Past Japanese administrations have interpreted the Constitution as allowing the right to collective self-defence, but prohibiting the nation from exercising it.

During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first Cabinet in 2006 and 2007, an expert panel was established with the task of laying the legal foundation needed to ensure security. The panel was asked to discuss the revision of the interpretation of the Constitution regarding the nation's right to collective self-defence.

The panel submitted a report suggesting the government change the interpretation to allow the nation to exercise this right. Subsequent administrations shelved the report.

Abe plans to resume the panel's discussions, the sources said.

He has asked the panel to examine four possible scenarios for invoking the right to collective self-defence.

The US military will be directly involved in two of the scenarios, under which the SDF would be allowed to repel an attack on a US Navy ship during joint exercises on the high seas, and to intercept a missile targeting the United States.

Thus the Japanese government is willing to discuss with the United States an expansion of SDF activities together with revising the guidelines.

In addition, some officials of the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry have said the role of the SDF forces should be expanded in warning and surveillance activities to counter China's recent increase in marine activities, particularly in the East China Sea.

They also said a greater SDF role is also needed in the so-called Proliferation Security Initiative, a US-led global programme to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Japan to bear 'bigger share'

By Satoshi Ogawa

In light of China's growing military might, drastically reinforcing the Japan-U.S alliance is essential.

This is the underlying reason why the Abe administration plans to discuss with the United States two key changes that affect national security--changing the government's interpretation regarding the right to collective self-defence, and revisions to defence cooperation guidelines.

Since 1997, the year the current Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation was formulated, China has substantially strengthened its military capability. China's maritime expansion continues with apparent disregard for causing tension with other countries, and has become a source of instability in East and Southeast Asia.

However, Japan's policy on the bilateral alliance wobbled during the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration of then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, causing obvious friction between the two countries. Observers have pointed out that since then, the deterrent of the Japan-US alliance may not be as inhibiting as it once was.

The United States has taken a policy of "pivoting" more toward Asia. However, as the US defence budget is certain to be drastically cut, Washington has high hopes Tokyo will do more to boost its defence capability.

Abe plans to travel to the United States as early as next month--his first visit there since taking office in December. The prime minister plans to explain to US President Barack Obama about why the government wants to change its interpretation of the Constitution regarding the nation's right to collective self-defence.

Observers believe Abe aims to show the United States his determination to shoulder a proper share of the responsibility for ensuring regional stability as an ally through the expansion of SDF activities.

 

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