New Japan legislation bureau chief shares Abe's outlook

TOKYO - The Cabinet Legislation Bureau will "get proactively involved" in the process of reviewing the government's constitutional interpretation that prohibits the nation from exercising its right to collective self-defence, said Ichiro Komatsu, the newly appointed director general of the bureau, during an interview with The Yomiuri Shim-bun.

Komatsu said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keenly aware of the importance of maintaining peace and safety both for citizens and the nation's territories as well as ensuring the country is able to contribute to the international community.

"I aim to utilize my experience gained at the Foreign Ministry to [assist the prime minister's] focus on these issues," Komatsu said during the interview conducted Friday.

Komatsu, who previously served as ambassador to France, was appointed as the bureau chief on Aug. 8. It is unprecedented for a Foreign Ministry official or someone who has never worked at the bureau to be appointed to this top post.

The bureau is a government organ called the "guardian of law" or "legal adviser to the Cabinet" due to its role in checking government-sponsored bills and giving opinions to Cabinet members on legal issues.

The bureau has traditionally taken a cautious stance on reviewing the constitutional interpretation on the issue, while Komatsu is known for being in favour of revising the interpretation.

Regarding the review of the government's interpretation of the Constitution, which may enable the nation to exercise the right to collective self-defence, Komatsu said: "After careful consideration, a conclusion will be drawn by the Cabinet as a whole. Any conclusion cannot be forejudged right now."

He also said, "For a nation ruled by law, legal stability and consistency are extremely important." He thus indicated he would exercise utmost caution regarding discussions over any changes to the constitutional interpre-tation.

Komatsu expressed his intention to play a role in the process, saying, "The Cabinet Legislation Bureau will get proactively involved in the government's discussions on [the constitutional interpretation]."

The government is now set to consider how to deal with the issue by taking into account a report to be compiled by a government panel of experts for "rebuilding legal infrastructure on national security," chaired by Shunji Yanai, former ambassador to the United States.

Besides the issue of the right to collective self-defence, Komatsu also pointed to issues concerning legal infrastructure on national security, such as the use of weapons by Self-Defence Forces personnel when they transport Japanese nationals abroad or play supplementary roles in operations to maintain public order overseas.

He said it is necessary to "hold serious and thorough discussions" on these issues.

Regarding Abe's stance in favour of altering the constitutional interpre-tations on the right to collective self-defence and other issues, Komatsu said it is based on two aspects.

First, Abe wants to ensure peace and stability for the nation with regard to people's lives and assets as well as national territories amid increasingly severe national security environments.

Second, the prime minister is eager to help the nation become more proactively involved in addressing international issues such as regional conflicts, ethnic confrontation and failed states.

Komatsu said, "The prime minister is strongly aware that it is necessary to seriously consider whether the current legal infrastructure regarding national security issues should remain unchanged or whether there is room for improvement."