By Valerie Anne Jill I. Valero*
On 19 September 2015, Japan, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, effected one of the most recent and significant changes in its national security policy with the passage of the Legislation for Peace and Security. Precipitated by a cabinet report in July 2014, the law serves as a response to the shifting regional security environment, the need for greater strategic partnerships and collective action, and clamor for Japan’s more active involvement in the promotion of global peace and stability. It enables Japan’s “seamless response” to contingencies and enhances the country’s capability to contribute to international security and development. Guided by the Proactive Contribution to Peace policy and continued adherence to the principle of pacifism, it is likewise a means to deepen Japan’s commitment to its alliance with the US and help it forge stronger security ties with other countries.
Understanding the Legislation for Peace and Security
The Legislation for Peace and Security is a comprehensive legislative package consisting of 10 laws. It is an initiative that introduces significant changes to Japan’s security responses during peacetime and times of contingency through the expansion of existing laws and introduction of new laws.
The law’s passage has given way to, among other modifications, the increase in situations in which Japan may extend supplies and services to the US military during peacetime; revision of the International Peace Cooperation Law; extension of Japanese military support not only to the US, but also to other countries in times of exigency; and conduct of ship inspection as part of Japan’s contributions to international security. It has also introduced new laws, some of which appear to be supplementary to existing ones, such as the law on the protection of Japanese nationals and the law on the protection of military equipment of the US and other countries.
But perhaps the most scrutinized are the new laws on collective security, which buttress Japanese involvement in international peace and security operations. Easing legislative and operational restraints, these laws enable Japan to engage in multinational cooperation outside the UNPKO framework, provide assistance to foreign militaries engaged in collective security efforts, and respond to armed attack against another country, especially when the attack could undermine Japanese national security. At the crux of the law on responding to armed attack against another country is the use of force, which is permissible when (1) a country that shares close relations with Japan is under attack, and the threat of the attack extends to Japan; (2) there are no other viable measures to resist the attack and safeguard Japanese national security; and (3) use of force is kept at the absolute minimum.
Addressing the elephants in the room
Two elements are inextricable from the Legislation on Peace and Security – the Self- Defense Forces (SDF) and the Constitution. Without the SDF, Japan cannot realize its Proactive Contribution to Peace policy and successfully enforce its latest security laws. Both amended and newly established laws rely on mobilizing the SDF. Meanwhile, the Constitution, particularly the reinterpretation pertaining to collective self-defense, provides Japan with the conceptual foundation and legal latitude to rethink and modify the elements, practices, and regimes that have been the mainstays of Japanese security policy.
It is the prominence and inextricability of the SDF and Constitution from Japanese national security that make the law a subject of debate. The conundrum lies in the reality that Japan cannot make inroads in security reform without dealing with the pillars and values of its postwar national security policy and raising public intrigue and wariness. By putting the SDF and Constitution at the forefront, Japan is attempting to address its wartime past and security future. However, there still lies the question of whether or not measures like the Legislation on Peace and Security are the right way for the country to go forward.
Putting the Legislation for Peace and Security into perspective
The efforts of Abe to transform Japan into a proactive player in global and regional security affairs culminate with the Legislation for Peace and Security. The road to the law’s passage had been arduous, fraught with controversy and antagonism at home and abroad.
Given the incremental shifts in Japanese security policy in the last decade or so, the law’s inception and eventual institution should come as little surprise. With the acceleration of security-related reforms under the Abe administration, its passage was more a matter of when than a matter of if. For all intents and purposes, the law looks to bolster Japan’s security dynamism and complement the reforms that preceded it. Viewed differently, it is another gesture meant specifically for the US, to express Japan’s unwavering commitment to the Japan-US alliance by addressing the demands of its most important partner and to make amends for the shortcomings that have caused fissures in their bilateral relations in the past.
Until tested in a time of contingency, the law’s real impact will remain unclear. In some ways, the law introduces many vital changes, but in other ways, it can be argued that it does not. For instance, the SDF has been engaged in international peace and security operations, and in politico-military cooperation with partners and like-minded countries; it will continue to do what it has done for years. If there is any partner that will significantly, if not immediately, reap the benefits resulting from the law, it will be the US. Moreover, while fewer restrictions afford the SDF greater operational autonomy, it is important to recognize that, as a result, the SDF has to shoulder additional responsibilities and assume greater accountability for its activities.
Considerations for the Philippines
The Philippines’ positive response to the law’s passage illustrates the importance and impact of developments undertaken by other countries, especially key bilateral partners, on international security affairs. It is in the Philippines’ interest to continually encourage Japan’s constructive transition and to capitalize on this transition by advancing other aspects of Philippines-Japan relations.
It is also in the Philippines’ interest, in light of developments in Japanese security affairs, to evaluate its own resolve to evolve and adapt to shifts in global and regional security. How much is the country willing to commit for its security future? If there is anything to be learned from Japan, it is that transition is necessary, but it is also a complicated process that entails compromise, alignment of priorities and resources, and dealing with a firestorm of criticism and opposition. There must also be strategic reciprocity since partnerships can only go so far as the level of commitment a country is willing to demonstrate. How important are partnerships in pursuit of national interest, and is the Philippines, like Japan, willing to push itself towards new policy boundaries for the sake of these partnerships?
About the author:
*Valerie Anne Jill I. Valero is a Senior Foreign Affairs Research Specialist with the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Foreign Service Institute. Ms. Valero can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this publication are of the authors alone and do not reflect the official position of the Foreign Service Institute, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government of the Philippines.
This article was published by FSI. CIRSS Commentaries is a regular short publication of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) focusing on the latest regional and global developments and issues.