(Mainichi: January 27, 2015 – p. 1)
By Jun Aoki
With respect to a bill on the security legislation to be submitted to the ordinary Diet session, the government has sounded out the ruling parties on its intention to revise laws to allow the Self Defense Forces (SDF) to protect foreign warships in addition to those operated by the U.S. before an armed attack takes place. Although the cabinet decision made in July last year was designed to protect only “the U.S. military,” the government has apparently decided that Japan will need to protect other foreign warships that participate in ballistic missile defense.
However, establishing laws that extend beyond the contents of the cabinet decision may invite criticism that the government is “stretching the interpretation,” which could affect other security related legislation regarding the right to exercise collective self-defense. The Komeito Party will inevitably express concern. This will likely become a focal point in the upcoming ruling parties’ discussions.
The cabinet decision made last July was aimed at creating a legal framework for “gray zone” situations that fall short of a full-scale war and do not require the use of the right of individual or collective self-defense. The cabinet decision specified the expansion of the SDF’s activities in case the U.S. military is attacked while defending Japan. “The SDF will be authorized to use weapons at the minimum level for the protection of armaments of the U.S. military operating in cooperation with the SDF,” according to the cabinet decision. The government has in mind a situation in which SDF will protect a U.S. Aegis cruiser operating to detect a North Korea’s ballistic missile launch.
The government and ruling parties’ officials have explained that the cabinet decision “is designed to protect only the U.S. military’s armaments such as warships or airplanes, and other foreign militaries are not included.” However, with growing voices within the government saying that “other foreign militaries including Australia are highly likely to participate in missile defense,” the government has begun looking into establishing a legal framework that will allow Japan to protect foreign militaries other than the U.S.
The government is considering revising Article 95 of the SDF Law that authorizes the SDF to use weapons for the protection of the SDF’s warships and airplanes (the protection of armaments) by adding a section on protecting “foreign militaries” including the U.S. The administration intends to submit a bill together with other relevant security legislation to the ongoing regular Diet session. A government official explains: “The cabinet decision is only a basic policy. There is no problem with legislating something that is not written in the cabinet decision.”
However, the establishment of such a legal framework that could be taken as deviating from the cabinet decision may spur criticism from opposition parties and the public that were against the cabinet decision in the first place because they believed the government changed the conventional constitutional interpretation. Since both the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komeito party rushed to make the cabinet decision during the ruling parties’ deliberations last year, they were unable to put the finishing touches on the cabinet decision regarding “gray zones,” international cooperation, and the right to exercise collective self-defense. The Komeito party is seeking the establishment of a legal framework that “appropriately reflects the cabinet decision,” according to party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi.