A story that has seemingly gone unreported or undiscussed in the English media that I at least think is interesting is the recent LDP proposal to submit a SDF General Measures Law (jp) [for the depolyment of the SDF overseas] to the Diet. At the very least it looks likely to be part of their Upper House election manifesto.
The law is designed to do a couple of things. First it would bring together and integrate a number of the ad hoc “special measures” laws that have been passed by the Diet in recent times such as the Anti-terrorism Special Measures Law and the Humanitarian Relief and Iraqi Reconstruction Special Measures Law. The General Law would be permanent and would reduce the barriers and need for significant case by case discussion in the Diet, especially if there is a UN resolution. Note this would not mean that Diet approval would not be needed in advance however for any SDF operation to go ahead.
Dispatch of SDF forces would be acceptable under these circumstances:
(1) When there is a United Nations Resolution;
(2) A request by an international organisation;
(3) a request by one of the parties involved in a dispute/conflict; and
(4) When it is judged necessary in order to contribute to the wellbeing of the international community.
Perhaps more interestingly, the law clarifies the use of weapons – essentially Japanese troops would be able to use weapons to defend other troops and assumedly themselves. This was obviously a big point of contention in Iraq where Japanese SDF forces needed armed escorts from other countries as they were not permitted to use weapons unless fired upon first.
However, the law is meant to ‘reinforce’ the constitution and civilian control over the military. The Diet will still need to approve the decision to deploy SDF units overseas in advance. While I am not a law expert (at all) I believe this means that the decision to deploy or not will be the main focus for Diet deliberations, rather than the exact scope of how the forces are deployed which has been decided on ad hoc basis up until now. I assume the final version of the law would make the necessary distinctions in order to remain constitutionally robust.
Importantly, the activities of the SDF would be limited to “non-International Armed Conflict” which according to international law is conflict between a state actor(s) and a non-state actor(s), or between two or more non-state actors. An “International Armed Conflict” is one that takes place between two or more states. Given the “the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” portion of the Japanese Constitution, the deployment of weapons in any sort of way overseas will mean this distinction is very important. So armed SDF intervention in Somalia would be justified given its failed state status, but not in North Korea, although like in Iraq one assumes that supporting “non-armed” roles could be justified in the case of “International Armed Conflict”. As a reminder examples of such activities were:
So why do I think this is important or interesting? Afterall, the LDP is a party that looks to be self-destructing and even in the best case scenario will not be in power for another 3 years.
I think there are a few noteworthy things here:
(1) It is interesting to see LDP put forward a security policy prescription without the day to day exigencies of the Japan-US alliance constraining choices.
(2) The fact that such a law can be proposed with little fan fare. This is not to suggest the Japanese public would automatically support it (although I see no reason to state emphatically that they wouldn’t) but that such discussions of Japan’s security role and the exercise of Japanese military power overseas are becoming more mainstream.
(3) I have mentioned previously (somewhere) that for a vibrant two-party system to work in Japan there does not necessarily have to be a significant and clear ideological divide between the parties – at least in terms of the Western concept of Left-Right wing politics. But obviously there will need to be some sort of party identity. I wonder if security issues such as these are going to be the ones that come to define the LDP’s party identity, or at least that of a “consolidated” 2nd “pole”. For the 2013 double election I can imagine, assuming the Japanese economy is back on track, the issues of the Sales Tax and Japan’s security posture, or even constitutional revision, could be significant issues that parties are going to have to stake their reputations on. And winning a double election after hopefully a more stable (than now) period of an alternative government would be a legitimate opportunity to claim a mandate for changing or not changing the constitution. While some may deride the DPJ’s 2009 victory as one borne of apathy and disgust with LDP rule, if there is some consolidation around a second pole (we will see how “3rd pole”-like parties currently claiming “3rd pole” status really are after the July elections), then the voters will have a legitimate choice.
Why necessarily constitutional change? After all, the LDP is looking to cooperate with the DPJ on the current proposal for a general law – and there is no reason to believe that the DPJ would find anything greatly problematic in this – they have been merely disinterested in security issues such as this rather than hostile to them. Well, a month ago the LDP were considering including legitimizing the use of “Collective Self-Defense” （ 集団的自衛権 shuudan-teki jieiken) in the manifesto for the upcoming election (jp). This would be constitutionally significant and could well be something that could drive an interesting identity wedge between the LDP and the DPJ – especially with the likes of security hawk Koike Yuriko (who has been making a rather silly IMO song and dance in international media about [Chinese] foreigner suffrage undermining Japan’s security) and security policy wonk Ishiba Shigeru in the LDP likely to feature strongly after the 2010 election. And let’s not forget the old guard of ‘Beautiful Japan’ers who are sure to exert influence behind the scenes.