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Thursday, May 22, 2003



War-contingency bills a wobbly first step

First of two parts Staff writer It was a historic moment. Nearly 90 percent of the 473 House of Representatives members attending the May 15 plenary session vote stood in support of government-sponsored war contingency bills.

News photo
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks during an Upper House committee debate on war-contingency bills as Seiji Maehara (second from right) of the Democratic Party of Japan sits among Cabinet ministers and ruling coalition lawmakers.

Lawmakers could now discuss and decide what Japan could do in the event of war, finally breaking a political taboo borne from the trauma of the nation's militaristic prewar and wartime past. The bills are now being discussed in the House of Councilors and are widely expected to clear the Diet by mid-June.

During World War II, emergency laws gave the central government extremely powerful control over daily life and over local governments.

In Okinawa, where a huge ground battle with the U.S. took place in the final months of the war, civilian lives were devastated and every available resource and property went toward the war effort.

Now, over a half-century later, a new generation of ruling and opposition lawmakers, free from that war experience, have broken the Diet taboo as they address a growing security threat from North Korea.

"The tensions caused by North Korea changed the nation's attitude," political commentator Minoru Morita said. "People started to realize that the posture that has prevailed up to today will be unable to defend the country."

The bills being deliberated, however, are considered just a starting point for putting Japan on a better footing to defend itself, as they are based on a seaborne invasion and mainly cover the controls the government can exert on the citizenry and private property.

And of the so-called new-generation lawmakers who have pushed for the bills, most notably Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, born in 1942, many of their political forebears got the ball rolling during the Cold War.

As an indication of how ideological differences over security issues are narrowing across party lines, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan backed the war contingency bills following a last-minute compromise deal with the ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party to jointly amend the legislation.

Morita noted that many DPJ members share the same views as their LDP counterparts, and are only in different camps due to the single-seat Lower House constituency system that debuted with the 1996 election.

"Many younger-generation politicians who wanted to be LDP candidates had to run on the DPJ ticket because only one candidate can run from the LDP in a single-seat constituency," he said. In the previous multiseat constituency system, the LDP normally fielded more than one candidate for each district.

These junior lawmakers now occupy key positions in the DPJ. Yukio Edano, the party's policy chief, is only 38, and Seiji Maehara, who is in charge of security policies and primarily handled the amendment talks with the ruling bloc, is 41.

Key players in the ruling bloc are meanwhile descendants of lawmakers who were involved in major postwar security policy developments that occurred when the government was constrained by the Cold War-era ideological confrontation with the opposition camp.

In those days, the opposition's stance was that the Self-Defense Forces were "unconstitutional" under the war-renouncing Article 9, and it was quick to go on the offensive against the government over defense issues, especially those involving the SDF.

Koizumi's late father Junya headed the Defense Agency when in 1965 it was revealed that senior SDF officials had secretly studied war scenarios and contingency legislation. The elder Koizumi came under fierce opposition criticism in Diet debate.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, 66, is the son of the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, who launched an official but very limited study on war contingency laws in 1977 that was conducted on condition that it would not lead to legislative action. The findings were shelved for more than two decades.

Then there's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, 48, whose father, the late Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, an LDP heavyweight, was chief Cabinet secretary under Fukuda.

Shinzo Abe's mother is the daughter of the late Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who stepped down in 1960 after railroading the revised Japan-U.S. security treaty through the Diet amid fierce resistance from the opposition camp and mass protests by student demonstrators.

"They are all politicians who attach high value to the military and security matters," Morita said.

The current bills are based on years of preparation by bureaucrats at the Defense Agency and SDF officials starting in the Cold War.

Thus instead of premising the legislation on more modern-day realities, like a missile or terrorist attack, the main scenario stems from Cold War fears of a large-scale landing by the Soviet Union. No one thinks anymore that this sort of event is likely anywhere in Northeast Asia.

The core part of the legislation, which defines Japan's response to an enemy attack, is a bill to allow the SDF to fortify its positions against a sea invasion by seizing land, houses and other property.

"The government bills are designed to cope with conventional (threats). . . . This is a basic military operation. We should start from here," argued military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata, a former commander of the Ground Self-Defense Force's Northern Army, based in Hokkaido.

The government bills should be likened to the ABCs of military operations, whereas steps to cope with terrorism are the XYZs, Shikata said.

However, the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States fundamentally altered the basic concept of national security. Japan had its own taste of terrorism years earlier when Aum Shinrikyo carried out a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.

"The line between terrorism and war has become unclear, requiring us to redefine the roles of police, the coast guard and the SDF," a top Japan Coast Guard official said.

A senior Defense Agency official admitted the SDF is far from ready to protect the public from a terrorist attack, especially one involving biological or chemical weapons.

"We have sufficient (equipment to protect) the SDF, but we won't be able to protect the whole nation," the official said in explaining the military's readiness to cope with a chemical attack.

He added that the SDF has only begun to study steps to counter biological weapons.

Cooperation between police and the SDF is deemed essential to countering terrorism.

However, the only such joint cooperation so far has been a map exercise carried out by the GSDF in January.

What roles the SDF and police would play in evacuating and protecting the public, thwarting armed intruders and guarding key installations, including nuclear plants, remain undecided.

"We won't be able to clearly define our roles unless we continue (the joint exercises) for five to 10 years," a ranking GSDF officer said.

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The Japan Times

Article 9 of 13 in National news

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