TOKYO -- In hopes of persuading a nervous coalition partner and skeptical public, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday mapped out a three-step path for allowing Japan to use force to defend allies without altering its pacifist constitution.
"We're now facing disadvantages because we don't have" the ability to exercise the right to collective self-defense, Abe told the upper house budget committee Wednesday.
By spelling out his plans in detail, Abe hopes to sway the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's dovish coalition partner, New Komeito, which has been reluctant to go along with his effort to expand Japan's military role.
The prime minister looked at possibilities such as an attack on a U.S. ship in international waters near Japan. Due to constitutional restraints, the Self-Defense Force would be unable to respond, even if its ships were nearby. And Japanese ships equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system would be unable to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles aimed at Guam.
Abe repeatedly warned that if such incidents occurred, it would "end the Japan-U.S. alliance."
His goal is to pave the way for the SDF to use force to defend the U.S. and other allies by changing the government's interpretation of the charter. While the LDP's platform calls for revising Article 9 of the constitution, which renounces the use of force to resolve international conflicts, the hurdles are high: initiating an amendment requires a two-thirds majority in each house of the Diet.
Under Abe's alternative plan, an advisory panel would issue a report as early as April arguing that the constitution allows Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. Based on them, the government would change its interpretation of the constitution as soon as the summer via cabinet decision.
The second step is the revision of related laws. This would likely involve chiefly two laws governing the SDF's deployment rules and provisions for a direct armed attack on Japan. Both presuppose attacks on the country from outside and would need to be revised to allow for other circumstances.
Another candidate is a law defining the logistical support Japan may provide to U.S. forces during an emergency near Japan, such as a war on the Korean peninsula. If the right to collective self-defense is established, the role of the SDF may expand beyond the current scope of the law, which only allows for such activities as providing supplies, transport and medical assistance.
Abe plans for the relevant bills to be submitted as early as this fall's Diet session.
If the constitutional and legal issues are settled, the final step is for the government to set polices for different scenarios.
If a U.S. vessel is attacked in open waters near Japan, the SDF might retaliate, but Japan may decide not to intervene in a similar case if it did not happen near its territory. It will be necessary to draw up standards on which deployment decisions would be based, and create a mechanism to check SDF activities.
Abe stressed the power of an enhanced Japan-U.S. alliance as a deterrent. "It doesn't mean that we must (exercise) the right to collective self-defense. Being able to do it would give us more policy options," he said.