June 14, 2014
EDITORIAL: Defense policy talks test New Komeito’s political integrity

In talks with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initiative to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, junior coalition partner New Komeito is showing signs of accepting the policy switch if certain conditions are met.

With firm resolution, Abe is pursuing a formal Cabinet endorsement of a change in the government’s traditional interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution.

New Komeito has discarded the option of dissolving its alliance with the LDP in order to protect its political integrity.
New Komeito appears to have given up hope of holding its own against the fierce political pressure from its much bigger ally, and has decided to focus on setting strict conditions for supporting Abe’s initiative.

No matter what conditions it may set, however, the fact is that New Komeito will endorse Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense if it strikes a deal with the LDP. Compromising on this vital issue could create serious problems for the future. The party leadership should be aware of the huge political implications of its decision on this issue.

During talks between the two parties on June 13, Masahiko Komura, who represents the LDP side, proposed “three requirements” for Japan’s involvement in collective self-defense operations.

Komura’s personal proposal would change the first of the three requirements the LDP has suggested, which says that there should be urgent and unjust aggression against Japan.

The first requirement as proposed by Komura says: “An armed attack against Japan has started or an armed attack against another country has started and as a result there are concerns that Japan’s existence could be threatened and that the Japanese people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could be fundamentally violated.”

This proposal goes far beyond the “limited use” of the right indicated by the LDP. It could end up paving the way for the use of the nation’s right to collective self-defense in a wide range of situations.

The phrase that the people’s right could be “fundamentally violated” has been inserted in response to New Komeito’s argument.

This phrase was originally a part of the government’s 1972 statement, which said Japan is not allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense. Komura has used an expression that was once used to describe a situation that allows Japan to exercise its right to individual self-defense in a cunning way that is useful for his purpose.

New Komeito believes that strict observance of the requirement would ensure that Japan’s actual use of the right to collective self-defense will be almost limited to situations in which U.S. warships carrying Japanese citizens for evacuation need protection.

But Komura’s proposal leaves room for a broader interpretation of the rule by containing the term “concerns” with regard to the possibility of the people’s right being “fundamentally violated.”

New Komeito is opposed to this potential loophole. The party is apparently trying to score at least some political points against the LDP by setting strict conditions.

Even so, there is no denying that New Komeito, if it accepts the LDP’s proposal, will help the Abe administration to change the government’s constitutional interpretation at will.

Imagine what could happen if this kind of departure from the rule of law is tolerated.

Isao Iijima, special Cabinet adviser, recently indicated the possibility of a change in the government’s interpretation about the constitutional principle of the separation of religion and politics. It was a thinly veiled warning to New Komeito, which is backed by the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai.

Iijima’s remark is tantamount to the declaration that the powers that be might be free to change the official interpretation of not just the war-renouncing Article 9, but any other part of the Constitution that they don’t like.

Does New Komeito still intend to go along with the LDP’s attempt to force through an effective amendment to the Constitution?

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 14