North Korea launched a medium-range ballistic missile on June 22, the same day official campaigning for the House of Councillors election kicked off.
Regarding the security legislation that came into force this past March, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a campaign speech in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, "Japan and the United States have become able to help each other to a sufficient degree. The two countries cooperated more closely than ever in response to the launch."
Public opinion has been divided over the laws, which were passed in September last year, opening the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
The opposition Democratic Party (DP), Japanese Communist Party (JCP), Social Democratic Party (SDP) and People's Life Party (PLP) have joined hands in aiming to scrap the legislation. As part of their cooperation, the four parties have fielded a joint candidate each in 32 constituencies in which only one seat is up for grabs in the July 10 House of Councillors election.
Japan's security policy is one of the key points of contention during the ongoing campaign for the upper house election.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) says that the government will enable a seamless response to any possible situation and tirelessly strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance to enhance deterrent power. The party aims to boost the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and enable the country to rescue Japanese nationals overseas should a military conflict break out.
Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, says, "The government should steadily implement the legislation, including clauses on the protection of SDF members."
The DP, the largest opposition party, is calling for abolishment of the security legislation. The DP has prioritized its election cooperation with the three other opposition parties, although the DP differs from the JCP and SDP over basic defense policy.
At the same time, the DP has proposed that legislation be enacted to respond to so-called "gray zone" contingencies that have not developed into armed conflicts. The DP's proposal would enable the government to order the SDF to launch public security operations or seaborne policing actions without approving such individual actions at a Cabinet meeting.
The Initiative from Osaka (IFO) party is demanding that the conditions for exercising the right to collective self-defense be stiffened from those under the current laws. Specifically, the party says Japan should be allowed to exercise this right only if an armed conflict breaks out around Japan or there is a clear danger of an armed attack on Japan.
The ruling coalition has repeatedly criticized the DP's collaboration with the JCP, which claims that the SDF is unconstitutional, as "collusion." DP leader Katsuya Okada dismisses the ruling coalition's argument that if the security legislation were abolished, it would damage the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Japan has not seen in-depth public debate on the security laws. An opinion poll that the Mainichi Shimbun conducted on June 22 and 23 showed that only 7 percent of the respondents cited security laws as the policy issue that they attach the most importance to. The largest percentage -- 27 percent -- cited pensions and medical care.
The Abe government stopped short of ordering the SDF personnel involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan to take part in missions to rescue civilian and other personnel under attack or guard U.S. military vessels in times of peace.
An apparent reason for the lack of interest in the security laws is that changes under the legislation are hard to see.
Seikei University professor Seiji Endo, who specializes in political science, has criticized both the ruling and opposition blocs over their handling of the issue.
"The LDP is preventing the security legislation from emerging as a clear point of contention during the election campaign while placing emphasis on economic policies," Endo stated.
"The DP and JCP say that defense policy should be returned to its status before the security legislation came into force, but have failed to talk about what should be done after that," he said.
The Party for Future Generations, which is now the Party for Japanese Kokoro (PJK), the Assembly to Energize Japan (AEJ) and the New Renaissance Party (NRP) voted in favor of the security bills in the Diet last year with the proviso that the Diet's involvement in decisions to deploy SDF personnel overseas be strengthened.
Since then, however, no progress has been made on consultations between ruling and opposition parties over the Diet's involvement in such decisions.
Each party's public pledge on security legislation
LDP:Preparedness to seamlessly respond to any situation should be created. The SDF's capabilities such as the rescue of Japanese nationals overseas should be enhanced.
DP: The security legislation should be scrapped. A territorial defense law to respond to so-called "gray zone" contingencies that have not developed into armed conflicts should be enacted. The SDF should be allowed to extend logistical support to foreign military forces only in areas surrounding Japan.
Komeito: Japan should increase its deterrent power through both tireless diplomatic efforts and the security legislation. The security legislation should be steadily implemented including clauses on the protection of the safety of SDF personnel.
JCP: The security legislation, which can be called war laws, should be abolished. The government should retract the Cabinet decision that opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Japan should propose the establishment of a framework for peace cooperation in Northeast Asia.
IFO: Conditions for exercising the right to collective self-defense should be stiffened. A border security law should be enacted to respond to any contingency that could occur on the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture, and other areas.
SDP: The "war laws" should be abolished. A basic law on the creation of peace, based on the principles of the war-renouncing Constitution, should be enacted. The SDF's mission should be strictly limited to purely defensive activities, as was the case before the security legislation came into force.
PLP: Relevant legislation on terrorism countermeasures and security that fits with the times should be enacted based on the Constitution.
PJK: The party pays close attention to moves to enact a basic law on security that would clarify conditions for exercising the right to both individual and collective self-defense. A territorial defense law should be created.
NRP: The security legislation is aimed at ensuring deterrent power, and should not be scrapped. Stable security arrangements should be maintained based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.