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PM Abe offers “meticulous” explanation on security legislation

(WiLL: August 2015 – pp. 32-43)

 

 By Shinzo Abe, 97th prime minister of Japan

 

 Responsibility as prime minister

 

 The peace and security-related bills are currently being deliberated in the Diet. I believe there is a need to make greater efforts to deepen the people’s understanding.

 

 In the first place, why are these bills necessary? This had been the central issue in the ruling parties’ discussions.

 

 Japan is facing an increasingly harsh security environment. We cannot turn a blind eye to the harsh reality. Under the present situation, no one country can maintain its security single-handedly. It is imperative to work with the international community for regional and world peace and stability.

 

 The stability of the international community also bears on Japan’s peace and stability. In that sense, it is necessary to enact the peace and security bills in the current Diet session.

 

 Peace cannot be maintained by simply chanting the word “peace.” What needs to be done positively to maintain or create peace"? Japan has to actively fulfill this responsibility.

 

 My question for the critics

 

 Since I became prime minister, I have conducted positive diplomacy from a global perspective. All conflicts must be resolved peacefully based on international law and not through military force or intimidation. I advocated this principle repeatedly in the international community and have succeeded in winning the support of many countries.

 

 As the prime minister, I have the responsibility to safeguard the people’s lives and happiness. Japan-U.S. cooperation and the deepening of trust and cooperative relations with our partners in the region and the world are necessary to firmly safeguard Japan’s peace and security. Therefore, we are taking legislative measures to enable a response to all conceivable situations.

 

 We must not neglect preparations to deal with all eventualities. I have worked hard to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance, which is the cornerstone of Japan’s security. I was able to build unbreakable bonds under the bilateral security alliance during my recent visit to the United States. By further strengthening these bonds, it will be possible to defend Japan more effectively and prevent conflicts. That is, it will be possible to enhance deterrence to dissuade other countries from conspiring to wage war on Japan. I believe this will also contribute to regional peace and stability.

 

 Under the Japan-U.S. alliance, U.S. forces will do their best to defend Japan if it is attacked. They will also engage in surveillance and reconnaissance operations in sea areas near Japan, as appropriate, in order to fulfill U.S. obligations under the security treaty.

 

 Yet, Japan’s position has been that it cannot and will not do anything for U.S. forces performing their duties for Japan unless Japan itself is attacked. Is that acceptable?

 

 When U.S. forces are mobilized in a contingency in Japan’s neighboring country and U.S. soldiers are in distress, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) rescuing them will have to withdraw if U.S. forces are attacked by the enemy during rescue operations.

 

 When U.S. ships repatriate Japanese nationals fleeing from conflicts overseas, they may be attacked in waters near Japan. Under current laws, even in a situation like this, Japan will not be able to protect the ships or rescue its own citizens unless it is attacked directly.

 

 The laws have been inadequate for protecting the people’s lives and happiness fully.

 

 My question for the opponents of the peace and security bills is: Are you saying there is no need to protect U.S. ships or does your opposition arise because the term right to collective self-defense is being used?

 

 Significance of revising PKO Cooperation Law

 

 In addition to revising the UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) cooperation law, the present security legislation efforts will include a new international peace support bill.

 

 For over 20 years now, Japan has been involved with international peace cooperation and its achievements have been highly recognized both at home and abroad.

 

 From this long experience with PKO activities, it was found that SDF members have faced many issues and difficulties in the performance of their duties under existing laws. The proposed legal amendments will enable greater efficiency in carrying out these activities.

 

 For example, while engaged in PKO activities, other personnel working close to SDF members are suddenly attacked by an armed group, so they ask the SDF to rescue them. Under present laws, the SDF will not be able to help them. The proposed revisions will make this possible.

 

 With the legal amendments, the SDF can play a more effective role in PKO activities and there will be greater scope for them to make international contributions. Legal revisions that will benefit Japan’s peace and security and authorize logistical support for the U.S. and other foreign forces will also be made.

 

 However, these activities are all unrelated to the collective defense right. None of these will ever require the use of force. I would like to make this very clear.

 

 No plan to withdraw security bills

 

 The peace and security-related bills we submitted had been discussed by the ruling parties at 25 rounds of meetings. We are confident that they are the best. I have no plan to withdraw them. However, we are eager to listen to constructive suggestions in the process of deliberation. Criticism for the sake of criticism or mere fault-finding will not have any effect on the people and will not contribute to constructive debate.

 

 In accordance with the Sunagawa Case ruling

 

 Many people voice the criticism that the peace and security bills are “unconstitutional.” I would like to explain clearly that such criticism is off the mark.

 

 The basic thinking of the constitutional interpretation remains totally unchanged under the security legislation. This basic thinking is in accordance with the Supreme Court decision on the Sunagawa Case.

 

 The Supreme Court is the highest authority on constitutional issues. Its only decision pertaining to the right of self-defense was the verdict on the Sunagawa Case (1959). The judgment of the Supreme Court, the guardian of the Constitution, forms the legal basis, and as a matter of course, this legal principle needs to be interpreted. In other words, interpretation must not go beyond the bounds of this legal principle.

 

 The Sunagawa decision cited the “right to live in peace” in the preamble of the Constitution and stated clearly that:

 

 “It is the inherent right of Japan as a state to take necessary self-defense measures to maintain peace and security and ensure its survival.”

 

 It is very important here that the court decision did not differentiate between the right to individual and collective self-defense with regard to “necessary self-defense measures.”

 

 The Sunagawa ruling further stated:

 

 “Unless manifestly unconstitutional and invalid, the decision of the cabinet and the Diet shall be followed with regard to matters of a highly political nature that are extremely important for the foundation of Japan’s survival.”

 

 In other words, the cabinet and the Diet bear primary responsibility for determining security doctrines and policies that bear on Japan’s survival and how to apply these in concrete terms.

 

 Awareness of Japan’s crisis

 

 On the other hand, the government has adopted a consistent position since 1972 derived from the right to live in peace in the preamble of the Constitution and the right to pursuit of happiness in Article 13, which was in accordance with the Sunagawa verdict cited above. The conclusion then was the exercise of the collective defense right was not within the bounds of “necessary self-defense measures,” so this right could not be invoked.

 

 That is the reason for the argument that the collective defense right is not recognized. However, this right has not been eliminated as a legal principle. It was simply a judgment that under the security environment at that time, the collective defense right was not a “necessary self-defense measure.”

 

 On the other hand, we must constantly think hard about the “necessary self-defense measures” to protect the people under the changing security environment. Japan is precisely facing an increasingly harsh security environment at present. In light of the basic changes in the security environment and amid continuing changes in the situation, there is a real possibility that an armed attack on another country in the future may threaten Japan’s survival, depending on its intent, scale, and mode.

 

 For example, in a contingency in a neighboring country, even if there is no armed attack on Japan itself, U.S. military vessels operating on behalf of Japan may be attacked. In a situation like that, Japan has been unable to do anything so far. We believe that in consequence of this there will be a very serious adverse effect on Japan in a subsequent joint response with the U.S. to other situations.

 

 When the U.S. forces are attacked in waters near Japan, this may also endanger Japan. This is not somebody else’s problem; it is a crisis for Japan itself.

 

 This is an era where no country can defend itself alone. The government and the Diet, which are responsible for the people’s lives and happiness, need to think constantly about what are the “necessary self-defense measures.” Under the legal principle contained in the Supreme Court’s ruling, the cabinet and the Diet have primary responsibility and they are responsible for considering the proposition premised on a security environment in the past. We must not abandon our responsibility to think about the “necessary self-defense measures.”

 

 Criticism of unconstitutionality is wrong

 

 Under the proposed peace and security bills, three new conditions that are unprecedentedly strict in the world are being set for the use of force. The limited exercise of the collective defense right will be allowed to protect the people’s lives and happiness.

 

 These bills are based on the reality of major changes in Japan’s security environment and on the legal principle in the Sunagawa ruling. They also take into account logical consistency with the existing constitutional interpretation and legal stability. They are the result of rational application of the basic reasoning and legal framework of the interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution in previous government positions, including the 1972 position, in order to protect the people’s lives and happiness.

 

 Logical consistency and legal stability in relation to the government’s constitutional interpretation is maintained. Therefore, the criticism of unconstitutionality is completely off the mark.

 

 For sure, there are varied opinions in the Constitution Society and these are opinions of scholars. We must certainly listen to such opinions. However, at the time of the Sunagawa ruling, many members of the Society believed that even the SDF was unconstitutional.

 

 Certain scholars and media outlets invariably came up with the criticism that Japan would be embroiled in war when the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was revised or when the PKO cooperation law was enacted.

 

 Yet history has proven that such criticism was completely off the mark.

 

 Irresponsible name-calling

 

 Recently, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Katsuya Okada asserted at the party leaders’ debate (on June 17) that the peace and security bills are unconstitutional. However, he failed to answer, up to the end, the question of how to deal with the protection of U.S. vessels that was cited as an example. Has the DPJ abandoned its responsibility to think about the “necessary self-defense measures”?

 

 The cabinet makes a decision to demonstrate its consensus; bills are submitted to the Diet for full deliberation; and laws are followed and implemented after they are enacted. Claiming that this process is anomalous precisely amounts to a negation of constitutionalism.

 

 From the above, I think it is very clear that claims like Japan will “go to war for the U.S.’s sake” or “the SDF will be sent to the other side of the globe for missions unrelated to Japan’s survival” are wrong.

 

 There might be people who are vaguely concerned that Japan may get embroiled in an American war. I would like to tell them, this will never happen.

 

 It is clearly written in the new Japan-U.S. agreement that Japan will only use force to protect its people. This is a common understanding between Japan and the U.S.

 

 In the event Japan is in danger, the bilateral security alliance will function fully. Deterrence will be further enhanced by conveying this message to the world, which will further reduce the probability of Japan being attacked.

 

 Therefore, irresponsible name-calling, such labeling the bills as “warmongering laws,” is completely wrong. The proposed peace and security bills are meant to protect the Japanese people’s lives and happiness by thinking of all conceivable situations and making seamless preparations.

 

 The existing principle that overseas deployment of the SDF will not be allowed remains totally unchanged as a general rule. The SDF will never participate in fighting, such as the Gulf War or the Iraq War in the past. I would like to make this very clear.

 

 Recognition of risks

 

 There is an opinion that the peace and security bills will increase the SDF’s risks.

 

 In the first place, SDF members go through grueling training on a daily basis in order to protect the Japanese people’s lives and happiness. They will continue to carry out their mission. SDF members have been involved with dangerous operations. For this very reason, politicians need to be very careful when making policy decisions.

 

 While we strongly desire never to produce any casualties, we would like more people to understand that even disaster relief missions involve risks.

 

 Some people say that the bills should be discussed with the recognition of risks. We do admit that there will be risks. As stated earlier, the scope of the SDF’s PKO activities will expand. However, I am not sure if the real issue is whether the level of risk will increase from 8 to 10.

 

 Critics may want to say “stop, because the risks will increase,” but is it acceptable to stop everything that is risky? At this very moment, SDF members working in South Sudan and Japan Coast Guard officers operating near the Nansei Islands are performing their duties very much aware of the risks involved. Yet all these missions must not be called off.

 

 It goes without saying that the SDF must ensure the safety of its members in its operations. Under the proposed peace and security bills, logistical support must not take place in locations where the SDF members’ safety is in doubt. There is an explicit system for commanders in the field to make the decision to suspend operations or evacuate in the event of imminent danger.

 

 Issuance of World War II statement

 

 In light of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year, I delivered a speech to the Australian parliament last year. I also conveyed my thoughts in my speech to the Bandung Conference in April and my recent address to the joint session of both houses of the U.S. Congress.

 

 Many precious lives were lost in foreign countries by soldiers worried about the future of their motherland and wishing for the happiness of their families and loved ones. The peace that Japan enjoys today is built on their sacrifices.

 

 Japan will never deviate from the path of a peaceful nation in the future. I would like to convey the strong message that the calamities of war should never be repeated. Based on its deep remorse for the past war, Japan has persisted in building a free and democratic country and has contributed to world peace and prosperity.

 

 I would like to clearly project the image of a Japan making greater contributions to peace and stability in Asia and the world under the doctrine of proactive pacifism as it contemplates the path that it has taken on the 80th, 90th or 100th anniversaries of the war. At the same time, it is a fact that many countries have provided Japan with their assistance in the past 70 years. I would like to issue an Abe statement that embodies Japan’s sense of gratitude. (Abridged)

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