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Three new conditions on self-defense measures move Japan closer to seamless security

July 1, 2014

After a committee meeting of the ruling parties (the LDP and the New Komeito), the government made a cabinet decision on July 1 on new enhancements to the legal framework for security. The decision was made because of "the need to enhance the domestic legal framework to enable seamless response and more actively contribute to peace and stability in the international community." It presents prescriptions for government response in three areas: (1) response to infringements that are not at the level of armed attack; (2) greater contributions to peace and stability in the international community; and (3) self-defense measures allowed under Article 9 in the Constitution.

Key points in the cabinet decision

1. Response to infringements that are not at the level of an armed attack

The cabinet decision addresses "gray zone situations" in which foreign forces infringe upon the sovereignty of Japan in ways that are not immediately recognized as an armed attack. It notes that "it is more important than ever to develop a framework that will facilitate closer coordination and enable full and seamless response based on the fundamental roles and responsibilities of relevant institutions and agencies, including police agencies and the Self-Defense Forces." The government will study specific measures to enable rapid response by the Self-Defense Forces in the event of, for example, the incursion of an armed group onto an outlying island.

The cabinet decision will also enhance the legal framework to allow the Self-Defense Forces to defend U.S. military installations at the request or consent of the United States in the event of an action against the U.S. military forces defending Japan that does not constitute an armed attack.

2. Greater contributions to peace and stability in the international community

The Self-Defense Forces provide logistical support in the form of replenishment and transportation of supplies to the U.S. military and multinational forces organized under decisions of the UN Security Council. However, the government has limited their scope to "rear areas" and "non-combat areas" so that they do not "become part of the exercise of forces."

In the decision, the government notes the "need to enable the Self-Defense Forces to fully serve in a broad range of support activities," but restricts the scope of support activities for the military forces of other countries to "areas where combat is not presently taking place" with a caveat that activities be immediately curtailed or suspended in the event that there is combat in the area.

It also includes enhancements to the legal framework which will enable the Self-Defense Forces to use force during international peacekeeping activities when coming to the aid of civilians who are under attack in distant locations ("kaketsuke-keigo") and when rescuing Japanese nationals.

3. Self-defense measures allowed under Article 9 of the Constitution

The government interpretation of this point has been that the Constitution allows the exercise of forces only in the event of an armed attack on Japan. The cabinet decision notes that this basic theory "must be upheld" in the future, but also argues that "an armed attack against another country may, depending on its objective, scale, and form, could constitute an existential threat to Japan."

Thus far, the government interprets the Constitution as "allowing self-defense measures under the traditional government interpretation" in the event of armed attack on another country with which Japan has close ties, provided that the following three conditions are met: (1) there is a clear threat to the fundamental rights of the people for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; (2) there are no other appropriate methods to ensure the continued existence of Japan and protect the lives of the people; and (3) force is exercised to the minimum extent required.

The decision also clearly articulates the principle of prior approval by the Diet, stating, "democratic control must obviously be ensured because the purpose of these activities is to protect the lives and peace of the people."

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