TOKYO - The government decided on a reinterpretation of the Constitution to allow limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, a major turning point for the country's security policy in the postwar era.
At a press conference later in the evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained the significance of reinterpreting the Constitution, seeking the people's understanding.
"I, as prime minister, have a big responsibility to protect the people's lives and their peaceful livelihood," Abe said. "With this resolve, the Cabinet today approved a basic policy for establishing new legislation for security."
Abe stressed that the Cabinet decision will not change the basic interpretation of the current Constitution.
"The existing principle that dispatching troops overseas is prohibited in general will not change at all," he said. "There will never be a case in which the Self-Defence Forces will participate in combat in wars such as the Gulf War and the Iraq War."
Abe emphasised that the latest Cabinet decision will further decrease the risk that Japan is dragged into war. "I want to clearly say once again that Japan will never become a country that wages war again," he said.
The Cabinet decision states legal grounds for allowing the exercise of the right of collective self-defence under the Constitution and a direction for the development of legislation in the future.
Under the government's new view on security legislation, the right of collective self-defence can be exercised as a self-defence measure when three conditions are met.
1: An armed attack takes place against a foreign country with which Japan has close relations and the country's existence is threatened and there is a "clear danger" that the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be fundamentally undermined.
2: There are no other appropriate measures to ensure the country's existence and protect the people.
3: The use of force is kept to the minimum necessary.
Under the interpretation of the Constitution by past administrations, the country has the right of collective self-defence but cannot exercise it.
The Cabinet decision also incorporates the development of legislation to enable the Self-Defence Forces engaged in UN peacekeeping operations and other activities to come to the rescue of civilians or foreign troops in geographically distant areas and to protect weapons and other supplies used by US military units engaged in defending Japan.
In addition, the SDF will be able to provide logistic support to foreign troops in areas other than those in which the troops are actually engaged in acts of combat, according to the Cabinet decision.
Notably, the new interpretation could pave the way for the SDF to provide logistic support in wider areas as long as they are not places where combat is actually taking place.
The Cabinet decision also states that discussions will be carried out to speed up procedures to deal with an infringement, not amounting to an armed attack, taking place in areas around remote islands, apparently with the Senkaku Islands in mind.
The Abe administration was eager to allow the exercise of the right of collective self-defence because, as Abe mentioned at the press conference, the security environment surrounding Japan is increasingly severe.
This is exemplified by China's military buildup and recent maritime expansion as well as North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs.
Abe has said peace cannot be maintained by a single country, stressing that the move to allow the exercise of the right of collective self-defence is part of Japan's proactive contribution to peace.
The Abe administration also has been trying to dispel concerns that Japan may grow its military power, emphasizing the right of collective self-defence will serve as deterrence.
Points of Cabinet decision
* The use of minimum necessary force is permitted under the Constitution when an armed attack takes place against a foreign country with which Japan has close relations and there is a clear danger that the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be fundamentally undermined.
* There are cases in which the use of force has its basis in the right of collective self-defence under international law.
* Discussions will be carried out to speed up the issuance of commands and other procedures to deal with an infringement that does not amount to an armed attack. Legislation will be established to enable the Self-Defence Forces to protect weapons and other supplies used by US military units engaged in defending Japan.
* Legislation will be established to enable the SDF to come to the rescue of civilians or foreign troops in remote locations when certain conditions, including the provision of consent by the government of a country to which the SDF is dispatched, are met.
* The SDF will be able to provide logistic support for foreign troops in areas other than those in which the "troops are engaged in acts of combat."