--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 9
EDITORIAL: What is Abe's real motive for collective self-defense?

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a first step toward allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. At Abe's request, an advisory council of experts has begun to discuss the issue.

Abe says the move is aimed at strengthening Japan's security alliance with the United States.

In what way, then, does he want to change the bilateral alliance? Won't the change that he envisions set the stage for a gradual erosion of the pacifist principles of the postwar Constitution?

Abe should offer clear answers to these and other key questions at the outset of the policy debate on this issue.

If Japan were to exercise its right to collective self-defense, it would regard an attack on the United States, Japan’s ally, as an attack against itself and mobilize its Self-Defense Forces to fight against the attacker along with the United States.

In the postwar period, Japan has consistently held the position that its use of armed force must be limited to the minimum necessary for self-defense under the restrictions imposed by the war-renouncing Constitution.

According to the traditional interpretation of the government, Japan would cross the line and violate the Constitution if it enters war to help defend the United States when Japan has not been attacked directly.

Abe, however, argues that Japan needs to change this interpretation so that it will be able to defend the United States in certain situations. Otherwise, he says, the trust between Japan and the United States will collapse.

Tension has been mounting between Japan and China due to a fresh flare-up of their territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, while North Korea has continued test-firing missiles and carrying out nuclear tests in defiance of international calls for an end to these weapons programs. Abe's push for collective self-defense is likely designed partly to put pressure on these neighbors.

In making his case, Abe has often cited the following scenarios: an attack has been launched against a U.S. warship operating close to an SDF vessel; or, a missile that could be headed toward the United States is detected by Japanese radar.

According to the government's current view, however, in cases where a U.S. vessel sailing alongside a Japanese ship comes under attack, the SDF ship is permitted to strike back as a way to defend itself.

As for the second scenario, Japan's current missile defense system doesn't have the ability to shoot down a missile flying toward the United States.

Moreover, the defense systems of Japan and the United States are already linked closely and strongly.

In modern warfare, certain kinds of information are crucial for securing a victory, such as the locations of submarines and signs of missile launches and their trajectories, and the two countries share a broad array of such vital information.

What, then, does Abe want to realize beyond the current level of bilateral defense cooperation?

The security situation in East Asia is changing dramatically, and it is probably necessary to adjust the bilateral security cooperation flexibly in response to these changes. But why should that require Japan to commit itself to collective self-defense?

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is seeking to enact a fundamental law for national security that would allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense in a wide range of situations.

Is Abe trying to use this legislation to brush aside the constitutional principle of limiting the use of armed force to the minimum necessary for self-defense and the safeguards Japan has built up over the years to protect that principle?

If so, his initiative will only undermine Japan's national interests.

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