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Thursday, April 26, 2007

CONSTITUTIONAL CONUNDRUMS

New panel to debate collective defense


Staff writer

The government said Wednesday it will set up a panel in May to debate the use of collective defense, which is banned under the official interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution.

The discussion could lead to the adoption of a new interpretation of collective defense that could transform the nation's defense policy.

"We will set up the meeting to study the rearrangement of relations between certain types of contingencies and the Constitution, including cases of exercising collective defense," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said.

According to the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which is in charge of legal interpretations, the nation has the right to collective defense under the U.N. Charter but cannot exercise that right without breaking the Constitution. Japan, therefore, is not allowed to use its force to come to the aid of an ally under attack.

Some lawmakers have persistently protested the contradictory nature of this interpretation.

The government made the announcement about the panel ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first official trip to United States so he can tell President George W. Bush about it during talks Friday and Saturday in Washington, government sources said.

The panel dubbed Meeting about Re-establishing the Legal Basis of National Security will hold its first meeting May 18 and announce specific examples of the contingencies it will discuss. The talks are likely to be concluded as early as September, when they will be reported to Abe, Shiozaki said.

The panel will be chaired by former Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai. The other experts will be collected from the fields of politics, diplomacy, defense and law, the top government spokesman said.

The issues will reportedly include use of a missile shield to intercept ballistic missiles aimed at an ally, and the staging of counterattacks when a warship from another country sailing with a Self-Defense Forces vessel is attacked on the high seas.

After Abe took office in September, he called for such studies to be carried out amid the threat of global terrorism and a change in Japan's national security profile.

"Under these circumstances, I have been charged with a big task -- protecting Japanese lives and property. Also, Japan will contribute more to global peace and security," Abe told reporters later in the day. "I want the panel to discuss how these situations fit with the Constitution."

Abe has repeatedly stressed that revising the Constitution, drafted during the Allied Occupation, is one of his priorities. But he also said last year that it would take about five years to actually revise it.



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