Abe Cabinet's controversial bill ends Japan's era of pacifism

By Daniele Pestilli on September 19, 2015
Citizens in Osaka protesting against Prime Minsiter Abe's self-defence bills. Image by: Jonat (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonat7000/)

Seventy years have elapsed since the end of World War II. The memorial to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place only one month ago. During the memorials, a number of the A-bomb survivors reminded Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, of the atrocities that war can bring, and cautioned him not to meddle with Japan's pacifist constitution. Yet on September 19th, Japan's parliament passed a law allowing its military to fight on foreign soil.

Asahi News reports that, despite ongoing protests by enraged Japanese citizens, the upper house of parliament passed the law which enables Japan to use force to resolve international conflicts and to have a more assertive role in global military affairs.

According to the BBC, three conditions would have to be met to justify such use of force:

  • Japan is attacked, or a close ally is attacked, and the result threatens Japan's survival and poses a clear danger to people
  • There is no other appropriate means available to repel the attack and ensure Japan's survival and protect its people
  • Use of force is restricted to a necessary minimum

The bill was hotly contested before being ratified on Saturday.

Scuffles had broken out in parliament on Thursday, when opposition politicians tried to prevent voting by gathering around the committee chairman and grasping his microphone, the New York Times reports. During the scuffle, opposition lawmaker Yukihiro Konishi was punched to the face by governing party politician, Masahisa Sato. The tussle can be viewed in entirety on YouTube. Mr. Sato later said, “It is unfortunate that the bills had to be approved this way, but they are absolutely necessary to protect the lives and happiness of the people.”

Reactions have been mixed. While tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Friday to oppose the Abe administration’s security bills, many others have been largely in favor of what they believe to be an overly pacifist constitution that is out of line with contemporary threats. In January this year, two Japanese citizens, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, were slain by ISIL members. In January 2013, ten Japanese hostages were also killed at the Amenas gas plant in Algeria. Many see terrorist threats abroad as one of Japan's weak-points, since the government was unable to take any action whatsoever besides negotiate with the terrorists and hope for the best as the clock ticked. This month, North Korea has threatened once again to use nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies if they pursue a hostile policy toward Kim Jong Un's regime. China, which has been flexing its muscles in recent disputes with Japan, has said that this latest move by the Japanese government endangers peace in the region.

The new law would allow armed involvement in hostage rescues. It would enable Japan to provide logistical support to South Korea if the North invaded, and would allow Japan to shoot down North Korean missiles headed for the United States. It also lifts restrictions on Japanese military support for allied armed forces. Nevertheless, given the ambiguity on how these principles are to be decided, not only by the current government but by future governments as well, Japan's Self-Defence bills are not truly a safety guarantee.

Fukuyama Tetsurō, member of the Democratic Party underlined, “Yesterday's forced vote was invalid. It is clear that the bill is in violation of the constitution, and any use of a Self-Defense Force is tantamount to participation in war.”

Junichi Ishii of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party stated, “Using a limited Self-Defense Force would strengthen the Japanese-American alliance, prevent war in the bud, and will make peace for our country a certainty.”

Netizens' reactions

Twitter user @iRz507 wrote, “Congratulations! To all those who agreed, please relax and enjoy your holidays.” (a five-day holiday begins on Saturday 19th).

@Hinemos_39 wrote, “This is for Japan. Congratulations. Thank you for your hard work Prime Minister Abe. Personally Prime Minister, I'm glad to fulfill the promise made to the American Congress. Let's gradually become independent from the United States.”

Other netizens were less thrilled. Twitter user @totokodemitasu wrote, “Is Japan on its way to becoming a non-peaceful country? I'm worried.”

User @ngataku13 tweeted, “We mustn't forget with what background, motives, and with what process this law was ratified. That is the most important thing.”

Overall, support for the bill was low. An article by Asahi News explains that a nationwide telephone survey conducted on September 12 and 13 evinced a 54% opposition to the bills, and a mere 29% support for the legislation. Support for the Abe Cabinet is also sliding, and currently stands at 36%, down 2 percentage points from a previous survey in August.

The prevalent attitude to this forced ratification is most clearly expressed by the words of Fukuyama Tetsurō, committee member of the opposition party: “If bills can be passed in a violent way like that, then our country's democracy is dead.”