April 07, 2014
EDITORIAL: LDP twisting Supreme Court ruling to push collective self-defense
The ruling camp, resorting to twisted logic and a far-fetched argument, is flirting with the idea of using a landmark 1959 Supreme Court ruling to promote its controversial defense policy initiative.
Some policymakers within the government and the Liberal Democratic Party are maneuvering to use the top court’s ruling over the so-called Sunagawa Incident as a legal basis for the proposal to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.
They argue that the ruling, which focused on the constitutionality of the presence of U.S. forces in Japan, did not ban the nation from using its right to collective self-defense.
But the Supreme Court decision has not been interpreted by experts to have any such implication for this issue. This is simply a twisted, self-serving interpretation of the ruling by these lawmakers.
The incident took place in 1957 in Sunagawa (currently part of Tachikawa) in western Tokyo. Amid demonstrations against the expansion of the U.S. Tachikawa base, several protesters, including students, entered the base and were arrested and later indicted on charges of violating a special criminal law based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
The Tokyo District Court acquitted the protesters of all charges on grounds that the presence of U.S. military forces in Japan violated Article 9 of the Constitution.
But the Supreme Court overturned the district court’s ruling, arguing that the foreign forces did not represent the military capabilities Article 9 prohibits Japan from maintaining. The top court, however, avoided deciding on the constitutionality of the bilateral security treaty, introducing the “theory on the acts of government,” which says the courts should not pass legal judgments on highly political issues.
Asserting that Article 9 did not deny Japan the right to defend itself from armed attacks, the Supreme Court ruling went on to say:
“It is indisputable that, as an act of exercising its proper powers as a nation, Japan is allowed to take self-defense measures that are necessary for maintaining its own peace and security and ensuring its existence.”
Referring to this part of the ruling, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura has claimed that the Supreme Court acknowledged Japan’s right to defend itself without distinguishing between “collective” and “individual” self-defense.
“There is a sizable leap (of logic) in the Cabinet Legislation Bureau’s argument that Japan cannot use its right to collective self-defense,” Komura said.
Komura effectively made the case that Japan should be allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense as part of its minimum necessary defense capability.
The top court’s ruling came five years after the Self-Defense Forces were established. At that time, there was heated debate at the Diet over the exact meaning of the military power Japan was banned from possessing under Article 9 and whether the SDF was constitutional or not.
The key issues in the trial of the protesters who entered the U.S. military base were whether U.S. forces in Japan were the military power as defined by Article 9 and whether a court should be allowed to decide on the constitutionality of a treaty. The question of whether Japan has the right to collective self-defense was not debated in the trial.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, chief of New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, recently said his understanding is that the Supreme Court’s ruling only acknowledged Japan’s right to individual self-defense. He is correct.
New Komeito should not accept the LDP’s self-serving argument.
If the Supreme Court’s ruling over the Sunagawa Incident had acknowledged Japan’s right to collective self-defense, it would have been reflected in the Cabinet’s interpretation of the Constitution that was established in ensuing years. But that is not the case.
Acting as if it were underpinned by the authority of the Supreme Court, the LDP is brandishing an interpretation of the top court’s ruling that has not been taken seriously by legal experts. This political ploy could give the public incorrect material for judgment about such an important issue.
With its move toward Japan’s involvement in collective self-defense criticized for running roughshod over the principle of constitutionalism, the LDP probably wants to use the Supreme Court ruling as a powerful justification for the cause. But such a gross distortion of the ruling can never help the party persuade the public to support the initiative.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 6