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Japan: Cabinet Adoption of Constitutional Interpretation Allowing Japan to Engage in Collective Self Defense

(Aug. 4, 2014) Japan’s Cabinet adopted a resolution on July 1, 2014, that allows Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) to take action in support of an ally that has come under enemy attack (collective self-defense). The resolution changed the government’s long-standing position that article 9 of the Constitution of Japan (1946) prohibited the country from engaging in collective self-defense. (Text of the resolution [in Japanese], ASAHI NEWSPAPER (July 1, 2014).) The debate over collective self-defense has been conducted for decades in Japan. (See Sayuri Umeda, “VIII. Collective Defense,” Japan: Article 9 of the Constitution (2006), Law Library of Congress website.)

The title of the resolution is “On the Preparation of National Security Legislation to Fulfill the Nation’s Role and Protect the People.” The first part of the resolution reviews the post-World War II international political situation and explains the reasons for why new legislation is needed to arrange the use of self-defense forces for national security.

Section 1 calls for legislation to deal with “gray zone” situations, which are emergencies that do not involve military attacks. The resolution states that there should be coordination among the National Police, the Coast Guard and the SDF; swift reaction against non-military attacks against remote islands; and the use of force in cases in which the United States military is under non-military attack.

Section 2 suggests that the scope of SDF activities be expanded. Currently, the law only allows the SDF to conduct support activities, such as provision of fuel, in “rear areas” and “non-combat areas.” The resolution calls for such areas to be changed to “areas where no combat is taking place.” However, it retains the policy that support activities cannot be integrated with use of force by foreign military. Section 2 also suggests expansion of the use of weapons by the SDF. The SDF’s use of weapons is currently limited almost exclusively to self-defense.

Section 3 explains the admissible use of force under article 9 of the Constitution and how and to what extent collective self-defense is to be permitted.

Section 4 states that the abovementioned changes will be implemented through new legislation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated plans to submit defense policy-related bills as a package to an ordinary Diet session next year. (Current Interpretation of Collective Defence Right Is Limited: Japan PM Abe, STRAITS TIMES (July 15, 2014).)