TOKYO -- Japan's ruling party is thinking about putting off parliamentary deliberations on collective self-defense, lest the issue hamper its coalition partner in local elections next spring.
The Liberal Democratic Party government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, aims to put forth national security bills at a special Diet session this fall. But the LDP's smaller partner, New Komeito, is not fully on board with legal revisions that would confirm Japan's right to come to the defense of an ally.
Advancing the cause of peace is a key plank in New Komeito's platform. Many members say they cannot casually sign off on collective defense.
"We cannot handle everything at once," LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters Wednesday after meeting with Yoshihisa Inoue, his New Komeito counterpart, and other insiders. "The right to collective self-defense is not the only matter for which we need to work out the details," Ishiba added.
Despite the possible delay in starting a Diet debate, the process may move forward in other ways. To lay the groundwork for Diet discussions on legislative changes, including for collective defense, the cabinet is to make a decision this summer on reinterpreting the nation's pacifist constitution.
New Komeito maintains it will not support this move. But the cabinet may go ahead because the government aims to cover collective self-defense in revisions to the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, due for review at the end of the year.
Where to start
On the other hand, many in the LDP now suggest the government should first focus on legislation not directly related to collective self-defense, such as rules on dealing with "gray zone" incidents.
Confrontations that are not serious enough to warrant a military response fall into the gray zone. This covers, say, a territorial incursion by an armed fishing boat, or a foreign submarine that refuses orders to leave Japanese waters. It is up to the Japan Coast Guard and the police -- not Japan's Self-Defense Forces -- to handle such situations.
However, several laws are likely to be revised in an effort to clarify the response parameters. One is the law that governs the SDF, which defines the conditions under which the forces can be dispatched. Another is the law on responding to contingencies in surrounding areas, which spells out rules for cooperating with the U.S. in contingencies that, if left unresolved, could lead to a military attack against Japan.
Ishiba argues legislation on United Nations peacekeeping operations also need to be changed ahead of Diet talks on collective self-defense. The so-called PKO law covers SDF missions in support of foreign military units working beyond Japan's immediate vicinity.
Some say the PKO law, as well as legislation regarding the defense of remote islands, can be altered without reinterpreting the constitution. New Komeito seems to find these kinds of changes more palatable. "I think that is an approach we can get on board with," Yoshio Urushibara, the party's Diet affairs chief, said after the meeting with Ishiba.