Editorial: Cabinet decision on collective self-defense is backdoor revision of Article 9

The government has presented the final draft of a Cabinet decision to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense to the ruling coalition's consultative body on rebuilding the legal framework for security. As junior coalition partner New Komeito is expected to accept the draft, the Cabinet is set to endorse the decision on July 1 after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito complete their intra-party procedures for approving it.

The government describes its reinterpretation of the Constitution as reviewing and tweaking its interpretation a bit. However, what the government is trying to do is tantamount to revising war-renouncing Article 9, and this fundamental change to its interpretation goes far beyond the leeway allowed to any administration.

The final draft would allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense if an armed attack is to be launched on countries that have close relations with Japan, and the fundamental rights of the Japanese people are in imminent danger. However, use of force in exercising the right would be permitted only in cases where there is no alternative, and should be limited to the minimum necessary. Moreover, the draft provides for three new conditions for Japan to use force as self-defensive measures.

Criteria such as "countries that have close relations with Japan" and "imminent danger" are too ambiguous, raising concerns that the standards could be stretched by those in power, and prove no hindrance at all to the use of armed force by Japan.

A list of potential questions and answers on reinterpreting Article 9 of the Constitution, which the government has compiled to explain its decision to the Diet as well as members of the public, highlights such concerns. For example, the list says that the Cabinet of the day would judge whether a contingency meets the three conditions for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in an objective, rational and comprehensive manner.

The Q & A list asserts that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense to conduct minesweeping and other operations assumed in eight scenarios the government has presented to ruling coalition policymakers, as long as these operations meet the three conditions. Furthermore, the list states that Japan can also use force in U.N.-led collective security arrangements if such operations meet the three conditions. However, the ruling coalition's consultative body has failed to draw a conclusion on these issues because New Komeito voiced stiff opposition to using force in such situations.

The draft of the Cabinet decision distinguishes the interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution from international law's provisions for the right to collective self-defense. The draft says that the government would regard what constitutes the exercising of the right to collective self-defense under international law as "self-defensive measures" under the Constitution without specifying whether it is individual or collective. The government uses this reasoning to show consideration to New Komeito, which had been reluctant to see Japan exercise the right to collective self-defense, but it is far from convincing the general public.

The administration bases its reinterpretation of the Constitution on a 1972 government view on how far war-renouncing Article 9 allows Japan to exercise the right to self-defense. In other words, the government cherry-picked some convenient parts of the 1972 document to reverse the conclusion that the Constitution does not allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. The government's Q & A list defends the reinterpretation, saying, "It is a conclusion drawn within the framework of the (1972) view's basic logic, and not a fundamental change in the interpretation of the Constitution."

If such unruly reasoning is to be approved at a Cabinet meeting, the government could do whatever it wanted to whenever it wanted to, and under ambiguous standards. The process of opening the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense appears to reveal that the government in fact intends this very thing. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has an obvious and expansive disrespect for the Constitution and public opinion.

June 28, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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