TOKYO: Marking a historic change in Japan’s pacifist postwar defense posture, two contentious security laws took effect Tuesday that will allow Tokyo to exercise its right to collective self-defense without breaking the Constitution.
Until now, even though that right is endowed to every nation by the United Nations Charter, the pacifist Constitution was widely considered as banning the option in war-renouncing Article 9, until the Abe administration opted to reinterpret it, rather than formally amend it.
Many of those opposed to the changes have called the new laws “war legislation,” fearing the nation will either enter, or be dragged into, military conflicts that are not of its making.
The laws are sure to unnerve neighbors like China, which has increasingly been alarmed by the gradual transformation of the Self-Defense Forces, which are poised to play bigger roles in East and Southeast Asia.
Yet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose administration drove the divisive legislature through the Diet despite the biggest protests in recent memory, believes the new framework will bolster the Japan-US Alliance at a time when Japan faces an increasingly turbulent security situation in Asia.
North Korea has recently escalated its provocative nuclear and missile tests and China is challenging the regional order by aggressively flexing its maritime military might.
“The quality of Japan-US alliance has reached the point where we can defend each other from now on,” Abe said during an Upper House budgetary committee session when asked about the laws’ implementation. “Our ties have become much stronger.”
However, the new laws only enable the government to exercise the right to collective defense under certain circumstances, such as mobilizing the SDF to defend an ally, namely the United States, or countries when not doing so could jeopardize Japan’s own safety and security.
For example, SDF personnel may be required to protect US military vessels under such contingencies as all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. Japan could also help remove mines where the US Navy is operating.
The laws also expand the scope of where and to whom the SDF can provide logistical support.
Previously, the SDF could only provide such support to the US military on or near Japanese territory. But the new laws broaden the types of operations and support, allowing for instance, the provision of munitions to other nations if Japan’s security will be threatened by failing to do so.
The implementation of the laws underscores that Abe, whose ambition is to ultimately revise Article 9 of the Constitution, is managing to check off his wish list in a timely manner while his ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition, which wields enormous power, has no viable opposition in the Diet.
The newly launched Democratic Party, which deems the laws unconstitutional and is now the largest opposition force, is stepping up its criticism of the LDP in the run-up to this summer’s crucial Upper House election.