Abe closer to easing Constitution’s grip on military

Abe closer to easing Constitution’s grip on military
A tank unit of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (SDF) at Asaka Base. Mr Shinzo Abe wants to revise the country’s post-war pacifist Constitution as that would allow its military to fight abroad alongside its allies. Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister and his ruling party face opposition from dovish coalition partner
Published: 4:13 AM, April 4, 2014
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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government and ruling party are close to a consensus on the need to ease the restraints the country’s pacifist Constitution puts on the military’s ability to fight abroad alongside allies, but have yet to persuade their junior coalition partner to agree to the historic change.

Allowing Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to aid the United States or other friendly nations under attack would mark a turning point for Japan’s post-war pacifism and its military, which has not fired a shot in conflict since World War II.

However, Mr Abe’s effort to lift the ban on so-called collective self-defence faces opposition from his dovish coalition partner, the New Komeito. The move would increase the chance of involvement in wars overseas and almost certainly further strain ties with China and South Korea, already frayed by territorial rows and disputes over Japan’s wartime past.

“There are various opinions inside the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but the view that it is possible to exercise the right of collective self-defence in a limited way is coming to be shared,” said Mr Tadamori Oshima, an influential lawmaker in the Prime Minister’s party.

“What is important politically going forward is whether we can get the understanding of New Komeito,” Mr Oshima added. “There is a great allergy in the New Komeito to the very idea of allowing the exercise of the right of collective self-defence.”

Mr Abe aims to achieve the change — part of his conservative agenda to make Japan a “normal country” more able to defend itself and its allies — through a Cabinet decision, rather than a politically tougher amendment to the Constitution.

This week, his government unveiled an overhaul of a decades-old ban on weapons exports. Longer term, Mr Abe wants to formally revise the US-drafted Constitution, seen by conservatives as overly restricting Japan’s security options.

Previous governments have said Japan had the right of collective self-defence under international law, but that the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 prohibited it from taking such action.

Mr Abe and his advisers argue Japan’s challenging security environment, including China’s military build-up, requires a more flexible approach and a bigger role for Tokyo in its alliance with Washington — something the US has long urged.

Expressions of concern from within LDP — as much over what party critics saw as Mr Abe’s high-handed decision-making style as over policy content — and from New Komeito, however, have delayed a decision on the contentious change.

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