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【#219】Lose No Time in Revising Defense Policy and Constitution

Koichi Endo / 2013.11.07 (Thu)

November 5, 2013

      On November 4, the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals sponsored a symposium titled "10 Months after Abe Administration's Inauguration: Collective Self-Defense Right and Japan's Defense," attended by Shotaro Yachi, Special Adviser to the Cabinet, Masahisa Sato, Member of the House of Councillors from the Liberal Democratic Party and former parliamentary vice minister of defense, Shu Watanabe, Member of the House of Representatives from the Democratic Party of Japan and former parliamentary senior vice minister of defense, JINF President Yoshiko Sakurai and JINF Vice President Tadae Takubo. I would like to summarize discussions at the symposium and describe my feeling as an audience member.

Yachi's worrisome carefulness
      "The Obama administration has turned inward-looking since it entered its second term," Takubo said in a manner to raise an issue at the outset of the symposium. "The president left Congress to make a decision on sanctions on Syria and emphasized that the United States is not the world's policeman. The international environment is turning around. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should lead the United States to rebuild the Japan-U.S. alliance." In response, Yachi said: "The Abe Cabinet is performing a diplomacy covering the entire globe. A priority order exists for policies. We must carefully and strategically implement policies according to the priority order. Careful discussions are required on a national security policy reform including a revision to the interpretation of constitutional provisions regarding the collective self-defense right." Sato said: "Actions should not be limited to the revision to the interpretation of the constitution. We have to simultaneously develop or revise relevant laws or regulations including a basic national security law, a defense program outline and a Japan-U.S. defense guideline." Watanabe said, "We should re-examin a gray zone between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard by providing police authority to the SDF or incorporating the JCG into the SDF."
      It was worrisome for me that Yachi refrained from touching national security or constitutional amendments at the outset of his remarks. "The Japanese people hope to see the Abe administration first restore Japan's national power including economy and second solve challenges steadily while staying long in power," Yachi said. In response, Takubo said: "While it is right to carefully implement policies, the prime minister may have to make bold decisions on some occasions. I would like Mr. Yachi to support Mr. Abe in this respect." Takubo thus gave encouragement to Yachi who has been picked as a candidate for the first secretary general of Japan’s soon-to-be-launched National Security Council. Yachi answered: "Constitutional amendments represent the prime minister's conviction and grand goal. I have the same conviction. But we should not wait without doing anything until constitutional amendments are achieved. First, we should revise the interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense."

Great expectations placed on Abe's bold decisions
      In the Japanese political and bureaucratic world, arguments are growing for the careful utilization of Prime Minister Abe's political capital. Such arguments are frequently taken as urging the prime minister to put off touchy issues. But Abe's political capital is based on expectations that he would accomplish difficult missions including constitutional amendments. Citizens' disappointment with the prime minister would injure his political capital.
      Symposium participants agreed that the prime minister's office, ruling and opposition parties, and the private sector should promote open, constructive discussions with each other on fundamental problems including constitutional amendments. The symposium was apparently valuable.

Koichi Endo is Director and Planning Committee Member , Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Takushoku University.