During Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s visit to the United States in September 2013, he described his plan to modernize Japan’s security policy, which he says is one of his top priorities. Professor Iwama Yoko, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, an editor of Discuss Japan, and a member of the Abe administration’s Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, explains “active pacifism,” a key phrase in Mr. Abe’s speeches, its background, and the historical background of the security policy that Mr. Abe aims to develop.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo gave speeches at the Hudson Institute, the New York Stock Exchange, and the UN General Assembly on September 25 and 26, indicating the Prime Minister’s strong interest in improving his image in the United States. Of these three speeches, his speech at the UN General Assembly in particular revealed Mr. Abe’s understanding of his negative image as a macho, right-wing militarist, and his counterargument against this perception. The main points of his counterargument were his promotion of “active pacifism” and his efforts to improve the role of women.
This is the second time Mr. Abe has been Prime Minister. He formed his first government on September 26, 2006, following the administration of Mr. Koizumi Junichiro, who had defined an age. Mr. Abe became extremely popular. His ancestors include politicians on both his father’s and his mother’s side. His grandfather on his mother’s side was former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, a powerful conservative politician. Former Prime Minister Sato Eisaku, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was his granduncle. His father was former Foreign Minister Abe Shintaro. Many people considered Mr. Abe, coming from a renowned family with a dazzling and charming wife, as suited to be called the “young prince” of Japanese politics.
It is well known that Mr. Abe is a nationalist and is interested in amending the Constitution of Japan. Kishi Nobusuke, his grandfather, revised the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty against immense public pressure, making it more equal and had wished to promulgate Japan’s “independent Constitution.” The present Constitution of Japan was established under time pressure and political pressure during post-war U.S. military occupation. Therefore, some have continued to maintain that this Constitution was imposed on the country. It has been the historical desire of the Japanese conservatives to abolish this forced Constitution and create a Constitution on their own, and Mr. Abe belongs to this group.
When Prime Minister Abe decided to establish the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security in April 2007, many felt that this was the first step in the long journey to amending the Constitution. The panel’s main mission was to determine whether the Japan Self-Defense Forces are legally allowed to carry out the following four types of activities:
1．Defending U.S. Naval Vessels on the High Seas
2．Intercepting a Ballistic Missile That Might Be on Its Way to the United States
3．Using Weapons in International Peace Operations
4．Providing Logistics Support for the Operations of Other Countries Participating in the Same UN PKO and Other Activities
For details, please refer to the panel’s report, which has been translated into English.[i] The report’s conclusion is as follows: The panel considers Type 1 and Type 2 to be exercising the right of collective self-defense. Type 3 and Type 4 are allowed under the Constitution, since collective security and similar international peace operations, which these types fall under, are not prohibited activities under Article 9 of the Constitution, and the use of weapons in such international missions does not constitute the “use of force” prohibited by Article 9 of the Constitution. The panel has determined that Article 9 of the Constitution does not prohibit exercising the right of collective self-defense, and that all four types of activities should be allowed. The panel has not discussed directly the pros and cons of an amendment to the Constitution.
At first sight, Article 9 reads as if Japan is not allowed to have any military force.[ii] In fact some, especially leftist forces, had argued for complete demilitarization for a considerable time after the war, but fewer people have taken that extreme interpretation in recent years. The argument that is generally accepted is that Article 9 of the Constitution does not prohibit Japan from having a minimum self-defense capability and that the Japan Self-Defense Forces are not against the Constitution. The Japanese government’s interpretation of Article 9 has been as follows: “The exercise of the right of self-defense as allowed under Article 9 of the Constitution is limited to what is minimum and necessary to defend the country; the exercise of the right of collective self-defense exceeds that range and therefore is not permitted under the Constitution.” This interpretation needs to be understood in consideration of anti-military sentiment and pacifism, which was very strong in Japanese society after the war. The government’s interpretation could be maintained partly because there were few situations during the Cold War in which Japan would have been required to dispatch its armed forces overseas.
In order to understand why Japan finds itself in its current complicated situation, one needs some further background knowledge about the Japanese Constitution. One key point is that the Constitution of Japan is very difficult to amend. Article 96 of the Constitution prescribes the procedure to amend the Constitution. Amendments to the Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House, and shall then require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast at a special referendum. No amendments have been initiated until now. Under Article 81 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has the power to determine the constitutionality of any law, order regulation, or official act. However, a very restrictive interpretation of this power has been applied, and the Supreme Court has made decisions only to settle lawsuits and has avoided making highly political decisions, which are considered to be under the purview of the Diet. The result is that the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, an organ of the Cabinet, has come to have substantial authority to interpret the Constitution. The Cabinet Legislation Bureau has taken the lead in establishing a constitutional interpretation that does not allow Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense or carry out activities that comprise an integral part of the use of force by other countries, and this interpretation strictly limits the activities of the Self-Defense Forces, which are participating in peace operations overseas. SDF personnel can use weapons to protect their own lives and bodies, but cannot use weapons to protect nearby Japanese civilians, foreign troops, or foreign civilians. If SDF personnel participate in peace operations and engage in transport operations, they cannot transport any weapons or ammunition. They cannot supply any fuel to vehicles that may be used in military operations. As a result, SDF troops engaging in transport operations have to confirm that no baggage contains weapons or ammunition. SDF troops engaging in fueling operations have to confirm that no vehicles, ships, or airplanes will be going to combat zones and participating in battles. Post-conflict peace-building operations are often dangerous, and troops from different countries participate in them. Under these circumstances, the Self-Defense Forces’ activities are limited to acting under peacetime conditions.
Shooting down missiles flying toward your country may be considered to be exercising the right of self-defense. In Japan, however, it is interpreted as an exercise of police power, and the same duty of care is imposed that police officers have. Although Japan is said to have the right to individual self-defense, a very narrow interpretation is applied to that right, and many operations are considered to be an exercise of police power or the protection of the Self-Defense Force’s weapons and other equipment under Article 95 of the Self-Defense Forces Law. The Self-Defense Force can use weapons only within a reasonable scope, and can only do harm due to an act of self-defense or in case of an emergency.
The problem is not so much whether the right of collective self-defense should be admitted as that the legal basis for the Self-Defense Force’s use of weapons and use of force, even under dangerous circumstances in which SDF troops may actually have to use weapons and force, is weak as a result of Japan’s long-standing narrow interpretation of its right of self-defense. Due to this problem, the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security has its verbose name. What the panel members really want is to enable the Self-Defense Forces to lawfully make the most of their capabilities when defending Japan and participating in international operations together with the United States and other allies and partners. That is what Prime Minister Abe meant by the phrase “active pacifism” when he addressed the UN General Assembly. The criticism from some of the media and certain opposition parties that Japan aims to change the interpretation of the Constitution and participate in wars on the other side of the world is completely wide of the mark.
Let us return to the 2007 Panel. Prime Minister Abe called the first meeting of the panel in May 2007 and enthusiastically encouraged discussions. However, Mr. Abe became ill following overseas visit in August, and the Abe cabinet had to resign on September 25. The panel continued its discussions without its creator, and submitted its report to former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in June 2008. However, Mr. Fukuda was not enthusiastic about the issue, and the report remained in limbo. The Democratic Party of Japan came to power, and Mr. Abe came back as prime minister on December 26, 2012. Given a rare second chance, Mr. Abe is highly motivated to complete his unfinished work, based on the lessons that he learned from his previous administration.
Mr. Abe’s top priorities are the rebuilding of Japanese economy and security. He reconvened Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security , and asked it to resume its discussions, taking the changes in the situation between 2007 and 2013 into consideration. His administration plans to submit a specific confidential information security bill, which is necessary for the proper handling of confidential information and the facilitation of information exchanges with allies and partners, and a bill to establish a national security council (Japanese NSC), which is expected to play a key role in developing security policies, to an extraordinary Diet session, which will begin in October. The Abe administration is going to put together a National Security Strategy, the first of its kind in Japan, following the example of the United States and other countries. Led by the Liberal Democratic Party, the administration also plans to put together National Defense Program Guidelines before the end of the year. Kitaoka Shinichi, president of the International University of Japan is playing a coordinating role as deputy chairman of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security (Chairman Yanai Shunji cannot spend much time on the panel due to his duties for the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea). Professor Kitaoka is also chairman of the Advisory Panel on National Security and Defense Capabilities, which was established in September to discuss the forthcoming National Security Strategy. Prof. Kitaoka, who is a trained historian, discusses his views on the national security issue as a key person involved in working out a comprehensive security policy for the Abe administration.
Translated from an original article in Japanese written for Discuss Japan. [November 2013]
[ii] Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan
1．Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
2．In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.