East Asia Forum - Peter Drysdale on Abe bites the security bullet

As the Japanese Diet moved to secure passage of the Abe government’s new security bills early Saturday morning, disquiet about what this might mean for Japan’s place in the world appears to continue unabated among the Japanese people. Abe’s legislative success has not been matched by an ability to persuade the majority of the electorate to get behind the new laws. An overwhelming majority of those polled are against the changes to the security laws. The demonstrations against legislation have been widely supported. And, in the backwash, Abe’s popularity has also taken a nose-dive (without a matching bounce in support for the opposition).

Under Article 9, the ‘peace clause’, of its post-war constitution, Japan foreswore the use of military force as a means of settling international disputes. The Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were previously restricted from using force unless directly attacked and are limited to the minimum level necessary to defend Japan. Much emphasis has been put upon defining what minimum means in drafting the new legislation that aims to transform Japan’s security posture to permit participation in collective self-defence.

In July 2014 the Abe cabinet reinterpreted the constitution to recognise limited forms of collective self-defence. The security bills that were passed through the upper house of the Diet last week will allow this reinterpretation to be implemented. This gives the SDF the right to use force to come to the aid of a ‘foreign country in a close relationship with Japan’ if ‘three new conditions’ are satisfied: the attack threatens the Japanese people’s constitutional right to ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’; there are no other means to repel the attack; and the use of force is limited ‘to the minimum extent necessary’.

The security bills will also expand the scope for the SDF to provide logistical support to friendly countries and respond to ‘grey zone’ infringements of Japanese territorial waters and airspace short of an armed attack. Under pressure from the government’s junior coalition partner, the Komeito, the legislation restricts such support to non-combat zones. The laws also loosen restrictions on SDF participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

The controversial laws have seen tens of thousands of protestors take to the streets in almost daily rallies for the past few weeks, in a show of public anger on a scale rarely seen in Japan.

Opponents argue that the new laws violate Japan’s pacifist Constitution and could see the country dragged into American wars in far-flung parts of the globe. The weight of judicial opinion in Japan supports this argument.


Despite months of fierce opposition, the Abe government carried the suite of security-related bills through the upper house of the Diet (with the support of its coalition partner, Komeito, and some other minor parties). They usher in the biggest shift in Japan’s defence policy since his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was in power 55 years ago.


Read the whole article at East Asia Forum.


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Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute