Talking About Security

Creating “Seamless” Security Legislation for Japan


The Abe administration has drawn up security legislation aimed at dealing “seamlessly” with situations ranging from peacetime to contingencies. What will change? And how about revision of the Constitution? We interviewed Iwaya Takeshi, chair of the LDP’s Research Commission on Security.

Iwaya Takeshi

Born in Oita Prefecture in 1957. Chairman, Research Commission on Security, and deputy chairman, General Council, Liberal Democratic Party. Graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. Currently serving his seventh term as a member of the House of Representatives from the Ōita Prefecture third district.

Key Concept for Japan’s Security Policy: “Proactive Contribution to Peace”

INTERVIEWER  The National Diet is about to start deliberating the government’s proposed national security legislation, one key item on the agenda of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s administration.

IWAYA TAKESHI  Japan’s security environment has deteriorated sharply, and Japanese nationals are continuing to become victims of terrorism. The key concept for our national security in response to the sharp changes is “proactive contribution to peace.” Instead of adhering to a type of pacifism under which we just sit tight and don’t do anything bad ourselves, Japan will contribute actively to the maintenance and restoration of world peace.

In line with this concept, our aim is to enhance deterrence overall by establishing a set of laws providing seamless coverage for all situations, ranging from peacetime to contingencies. I believe we have come up with legislation that is seamless and free of gaps and holes. But making it possible to do something and actually doing it are completely different matters. We intend to explain carefully to the people of the nation that the objective is to establish a legal framework to deal with any sort of situation so as to enhance our deterrent power and thereby keep contingencies from happening.

INTERVIEWER  Have you deliberated amply with Komeito [the partner of the Liberal Democratic Party in the ruling coalition], which was reluctant about dispatching the Self-Defense Forces overseas?

IWAYA  We had about twenty-five meetings of the LDP-Komeito joint committee on security legislation. During the course of our talks the Komeito presented three principles concerning overseas activities by the SDF. First, the international legitimacy of the activities must be clearly demonstrable. Second, the understanding of the Japanese people must be firmly gained. To rephrase that, we must thoroughly implement civilian control and conduct activities only after they have been approved by the Diet, which is the highest organ of state power. And third, top priority must be placed on the safety of the participating SDF members. These three principles were set forth by Kitagawa Kazuo, the Komeito’s ranking member on the joint committee. I think they were very valuable input. 

Expanding the Scope of Activities

INTERVIEWER  Komeito seems to have been extremely sensitive about the need for “the people’s understanding” as a condition for overseas activities by the SDF.

IWAYA  The missions can involve extremely tough activities, and so Komeito insisted that prior Diet approval should be required without exception. Our position in the LDP was that we would enact permanent legislation [calling for prior approval] but that since it is impossible to know what may happen and what sort of urgency may be required, we were firm on leaving after-the-fact Diet approval as an option in extreme cases. Based on our deliberations, we came up with a requirement for both houses of the Diet to reach decisions on such missions within seven days of receiving the government’s basic plan. In this way we assured a speedy response.

INTERVIEWER  The issue of how to protect the lives of SDF members conducting activities overseas involved difficult deliberations, didn’t it?

IWAYA  The legislation has expanded the authority of SDF members to use weapons in cases limited to particular types of activities, namely, United Nations peacekeeping operations and PKO-like activities that are not under UN direction but that are being conducted by concerned countries and regional organizations that have come together to restore peace. In these cases, SDF members will have the authority to use weapons in the conduct of their missions, which they didn’t have before.

To give a clear example, as the law stands now, if an SDF unit is transporting materials and finds itself blocked by armed bandits, the only option is to turn back. But under the new legislation, SDF members will be able to use their guns to fire warning shots so as to continue with their mission.

Another change is that the SDF can be used to rescue Japanese citizens overseas—and will have the authority to use weapons in doing so. But this will not be permitted in conflict zones. Rescue operations will only be conducted in cases where the local government approves and cooperates.

Many have questioned the capability of the SDF to carry out missions to rescue Japanese citizens overseas. But they have special operations forces, and I believe their capability is sufficient. In my mind the big question is whether Japan has adequate ability to gather intelligence, without which such missions cannot be conducted. This is an area where many issues remain.

Prime Minister Abe (right) receives a report from the senior members of the LDP-Komeito joint committee on security legislation on May 14, 2015. (© Jiji)

Revised Guidelines for Defense Cooperation

INTERVIEWER  The Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation were recently revised for the first time in eighteen years.

IWAYA  I think this interval was altogether too long. The guidelines aren’t a matter for deliberation between the ruling parties, but we’re maintaining consistency between them and the new security legislation. The biggest change is the addition of limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense in situations presenting threats to Japan’s survival. The guidelines now provide a framework for seamless coordination between the two countries in situations ranging from peacetime to contingencies.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that under the new guidelines Japan can provide more support than before to US forces. At the same time, though, the US forces are required to coordinate their operations thoroughly with the Japanese side. It’s not a matter of their doing whatever they like and the SDF being forced to help out. The guidelines explicitly require ample discussion with Japan.

A Profusion of “Situations”

INTERVIEWER  With regard to situations presenting threats to Japan’s survival, I understand various options were discussed, including inspection of ships and protection of US naval vessels providing missile defense.

IWAYA  Situations presenting threats to Japan’s survival are entirely in the realm of self-defense. Japan’s exercise of the right of self-defense is limited to cases in which it is attacked and or its survival is threatened.

Inspections of ships without the use of force have up to now been conducted under the Act on Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Perilous Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan. Under the revised legislation, the geographical scope for possible activities will be expanded to cover the globe, but the inspection activity will continue to be based only on voluntary compliance. Even after the revision, there will still be the same clear division between what lies in the realm of self-defense and what does not—in other words, what is permitted, and what is not.

We have submitted two bills to the Diet. One is a new law and the other is a bill revising ten existing laws. They include all sorts of references to “such-and-such situation,” “something-something situation,” and on and on. As I jokingly say, we have a “situation-ridden situation.” But it’s our job to explain these details carefully so that the people of the nation can say they understand and feel that they don’t have to worry about the new legislation.

Concerns over China

INTERVIEWER  Did China’s behavior affect the process of drafting the new laws?

IWAYA  I’d say that the past ten years have brought a sharp change. Even just the officially disclosed portion of China’s military spending is three times the size of Japan’s defense budget, and it’s growing 10 percent a year. The Chinese have modernized their equipment, and they are strongly determined to expand their maritime military presence. Chinese vessels have been appearing daily in the contiguous zone surrounding the Senkaku Islands and intruding once every two or three days into Japan’s territorial waters. Chinese planes are flying in the air around the islands, and Chinese submarines are cruising underwater in the vicinity. In the South China Sea, meanwhile, they are literally changing the status quo by force in the areas where their claims overlap those of countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. They have been conducting land reclamation activities on atolls and building one military base after another.

That’s why the current Abe administration has moved to rebuild Japan’s entire national security setup with the creation of the National Security Council, revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines and Medium-Term Defense Program, and an increase in defense spending, albeit by only about 1 percent. It has also revised the Three Principles on Arms Exports, opening the way for joint international development of military equipment. And it secured enactment of the State Secrets Law to protect security-related information. The proposed security legislation now before the Diet and the revised Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation are the final pieces of this overall effort.

The administration has carried out these moves one by one over a period of more than two years. The objective is to build a stable peaceful environment by conducting diplomatic efforts to the maximum while maintaining Japan’s deterrent power. The deterrent power of the Japan-US alliance has been strengthened, but I would say that the content of the changes is very moderate. The alliance is not targeted against any particular country or countries, and we will explain the changes carefully, striving to win understanding from China and South Korea as well. I understand that at the latest Japan-China summit meeting China’s President Xi Jinping made no mention of Japan’s security legislation. Japan always conducts its initiatives openly, and I think we should be able to win our neighbors’ understanding.

The Knotty Issue of Futenma

INTERVIEWER  But the plan to move US military facilities in Okinawa, a key element of the bilateral alliance, is not going well.

IWAYA  Indeed. In geopolitical terms, Okinawa requires the combined presence of the US military and Japan’s SDF. So we have been working to increase the airsquadrons and to station coast guard and maritime security units there. The US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station is the world’s most dangerous, located in the middle of a residential area, and so we strongly want to relocate it to Henoko [a different location within Okinawa]. We will continue to work at winning the understanding of the people of Okinawa for this move.

When the Democratic Party of Japan was in power [from 2009 through 2012], the government caused confusion with its erratic course regarding the Futenma issue, but in the end even the DPJ decided that moving the facility to Henoko was the only option. Prime Minister Abe has now started a dialogue with Okinawa’s new governor, Onaga Takeshi, and we hope that careful discussions will lead to implementation of the move. Within the LDP we hear calls for the government to pay close heed to the Okinawans’ voices, and I believe that we must naturally do so.

No Need to Revise Article 9 Now

INTERVIEWER  In closing I’d like to hear about the administration’s stance on revising the Constitution.

IWAYA  People have been referring to the recent policy change [to allow limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense] as “amending the Constitution by interpretation.” But I don’t think that’s an appropriate description. The interpretation adopted in 1972 took collective self-defense of all types to be unconstitutional, while allowing minimum necessary self-defense. This time the cabinet decided that, in view of advances in military technology, it’s possible to interpret the Constitution as permitting some types of collective self-defense. And the new security legislation has been drafted on this basis.

INTERVIEWER  Funada Hajime, acting chairman of the LDP’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, has been talking about amending the Constitution in stages.

IWAYA  I understand that when he met with Prime Minister Abe it was decided to focus on a narrow set of topics when proposing revision of the Constitution to the people of the nation. One of the topics that emerged was the need for a clause on emergency situations. This would give the prime minister authority to deal with a state of emergency, such as when a natural disaster paralyzes the functioning of local government bodies. Other countries commonly have this sort of provision in their constitutions, but Japan doesn’t. Another topic is fiscal discipline. Japan has an enormous national debt and needs to put its public finances back in order, but there’s nothing in the Constitution about this. Other topics include environmental rights.

These are topics that the ruling and opposition parties can deliberate around the same table. If we can achieve consensus within the Diet and present amendments on topics like these to the public in a national referendum, I think there’s a strong chance of approval. We may be able to present an amendment proposal to the public for the first time as early as the fall of next year, and if not then, maybe the following spring.

(Translated from an interview conducted in Japanese by Harano Jōji, representative director of the Nippon Communications Foundation, on April 23, 2015.)

constitution Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation Abe administration security legislation right of collective self-defense proactive contribution to peace