Japan PM eyes landmark change on limits to military combat abroad

TOKYO Thu May 15, 2014 7:11am EDT

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo May 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a review of legal limits on the military's ability to fight overseas on Thursday, signaling a potential landmark change in a security policy long constrained by the pacifist, post-war constitution.

Seeking to address concerns among Asian neighbors such as rival China as well as wary Japanese voters, the conservative Japanese leader also pledged that Japan would stick to a peaceful path and not again become a "country that wages war".

"Japan has walked the path of a peaceful country for nearly 70 years since the end of World War Two. That path will not change. But we cannot protect our peaceful lives simply by repeating that we are a peaceful country. Our peaceful lives may suddenly confront a crisis. Can anyone say that won't happen," Abe said at a nationally televised news conference.

"I think that we, the government, must confront this reality head on. It is necessary to deepen cooperation with other countries so that we can seamlessly ... cope with any situation to protect our peaceful lives."

Abe, pointing to growing tensions due to China's increasing assertiveness and North Korea's nuclear threat, called for a review of a decades-old interpretation of the constitution that has banned Japan from exercising its right of collective self-defense, or deploying its military to aid friendly countries under attack.

A lifting of the ban would be welcome to Japan's ally the United States, but would likely draw criticism from China, whose ties with Tokyo have been strained by a territorial row and the legacy of Japan's past aggression.

Abe also said Japan should strengthen its ability to respond to so-called "grey zone" incidents - low intensity conflicts that fall short of a full-scale attack. Concerns about such clashes have increased due to the tense feud between China and Japan over tiny disputed islands in the East China Sea.

But Abe said the government would not adopt a recommendation by his private advisers that Japan also lift its ban on taking part in U.N.-led collective security operations, in which nations join together to propel an aggressor against one state.

In their report issued earlier, Abe's advisers urged sweeping changes in a security policy long based on the principle that Japan has the right to defend itself with the minimum force necessary, but that combat abroad exceeds the limit imposed by the constitution's pacifist Article 9.

BYPASSING AMENDMENT PROCESS

Critics say the proposed changes would gut Article 9 and are

a stealth attack on the constitution that would skirt l amendment procedures that would be tougher politically.

The constitution has never been formally revised since its adoption in 1947, although successive governments have stretched its limits, which if taken literally ban the maintenance of any armed forces at all.

Abe, who took office for a rare second term in 2012, has made clear his desire to loosen the limits of the U.S.-drafted charter long considered overly restrictive by conservatives.

Abe's handpicked advisers said Japan's increasingly tough security environment meant the nation could not defend itself fully under the current interpretation of the constitution.

"We have reached a situation in which we cannot sufficiently maintain our country's peace and security or realize peace and prosperity of the region and international society under the current interpretation of the constitution," report said.

Abe said if the review concluded a new interpretation of the constitution was needed, he would like to embody the change in a cabinet resolution followed by revisions to relevant laws.

But doubts remain about how far and how quickly Abe can proceed. His Liberal Democratic Party's junior partner, the New Komeito, is wary, some in the LDP are also cautious, voters are divided and the LDP's deputy leader is worried about the impact on local polls this year and next.

Critics say even small changes would open the door to more drastic moves later. "Considering the nature of collective self-defense, to say it would be 'limited' is impossible," said Kyouji Yanagisawa, a former defense official who worked for Abe during his first 2006-2007 term as premier.

The advisers cited examples of actions Japan should be able to take. Among them were protecting a U.S. warship under attack in waters near Japan; mine-sweeping in sea-lanes in a conflict zone; and intercepting a ballistic missile headed for America.

They also recommended legal changes to allow action in other cases where the military has been constrained by legal concerns, such as rescuing Japanese overseas and using weapons in U.N. peace-keeping operations.

(Editing by Nick Macfie and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Comments (2)
AtlasMirror wrote:
It is totally Abe and his ally fault going to ultranationalist direction making anger of neighbouring countries. In fact, Abe’s objective is to bring back the lost glory of the evil imperial Japan army and see what he did:
1. Deny Tokyo Trial
2. Deny comfort women
3. Deny WWII war crimes
4. Changing constitution for imperail army return and bring back evil emperor to be head of States.
5. Openly admitted himself an extreme right member in front of UN.
6. Increase military spending even under US protection.
7. Worshipped the ghostly WWII war criminals Shrine as an great insult to all WWII victims. There is no hero there.
8. Keeping the stolen islands that is not belong to Japan.
9. Changing school text and put incorrect history to school children.
10. Still not repent from WWII compare with Germany which is much much better than Japan.
11. Hiding the nuclear weapon materials which violates the constitution. Now return to US becasue under US pressure.
12. U.S. alarmed about plutonium stockpile growing from Rokkasho plant.
13. Lying to the whole world saying China digital military spending in past years. Compare in 2013 military spending, Japan is 40 % of China and China is 30% of US.
14. Showing Abe is a two faced man. One saying Japan needs to improve China relationship but on the other hand trying to contain China with other countries.
15. Family backgound: Abe is from the famous WWII war criminal family member. His grandfather Kishi ws a key cabinet member of the evil imperial Japan army.

May 15, 2014 10:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
StigTW wrote:
Abe still going supernova… population dropping to half and he wants to put his country on a collision course with everything. Financial and military.

May 15, 2014 12:38pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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