Despite protests, wider role for military 'not in doubt'

The debate in Parliament over legislation to allow a wider role for Japan's military is expected to be fierce, and public demonstrations against the move will continue, but analysts say the eventual passage of the Bill is not in doubt.

Professor Yasuhiro Matsuda of the University of Tokyo said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had already crossed the tougher hurdle of getting the pacifist New Komeito, the ruling coalition partner of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), on board the Cabinet decision on Tuesday. It reinterpreted the Constitution to allow Japan the right to exercise collective self-defence.

"A Cabinet decision has to be unanimous, and the New Komeito members of the Cabinet would have had veto power," said Prof Matsuda.

The Bill, on the other hand, will need only a simple majority to be passed, and the LDP has a comfortable majority in the Lower House and, together with New Komeito, a majority in the Upper House.

"Even if New Komeito has different opinions during the debate, there are many supporters of collective self-defence among the opposition parties," he said.

The Bill, which may be passed as early as November at an extraordinary session of Parliament, will enable Japan to defend its allies even when the nation itself is not under attack, a significant security policy change for the country.

There are conditions that serve as restraints: the attack on the ally poses a clear danger to Japan, there is no other way of repelling the attack and the use of force is limited to the minimum necessary.

But observers say Mr Abe will effectively have a free hand to deploy the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) beyond "grey zone" incidents, such as illegal landings on remote Japanese isles, with the new Bill.

"The conditions are so broadly defined that there is room to drive a tank through them," said political watcher Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University in Japan.

For instance, New Komeito and the LDP have not resolved whether mines in sea lanes used by tankers to deliver oil to Japan constituted a "clear danger" to the country such that the SDF can join minesweeping operations.

However, regional security expert Takashi Inoguchi said it is unlikely that Mr Abe has to make changes to the conditions as China, through its incursions into the areas around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and North Korea, which regularly lobs test missiles into the Sea of Japan, have created an environment which has gained him cross-party support for his push.

Professor Inoguchi noted that the US has strongly welcomed the move, clearing the way for Japan to take on a greater role when the US-Japan defence guidelines are due to be revised by year end.

Yesterday, reports said Japan has agreed to South Korea's call to Tokyo to ask for permission when exercising its right to collective self-defence in the Korean Peninsula. This effectively recognises Japan's right to do so.

This article was first published on JULY 4, 2014.
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