Approaches to Japan’s security: The ‘normal state’ idea group

A group of politicians, which to this day is represented by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), holds a standard view of the state. This book calls this group a ‘normal state idea group’ (hereafter, ‘normal state’ group). The group’s interpretation of the Constitution is that although renouncing war as a means to settle disputes, it does not deny Japan the inherent right of self-defence as a sovereign nation. Therefore, Japan is entitled to possess a minimum level of defence-oriented capability. This view allows Japan to maintain the SDF, whose task is to ensure the country’s independence and defend its territory in case of foreign aggression. Although such an interpretation seemed incompatible with Article 9, the group argued that it was validated by both the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed in 1951, which formally ended the occupation, and the United Nations (UN) Charter Article 51. The San Francisco Peace Treaty states that:

Japan, as a sovereign nation possesses the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence referred to in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations and that Japan may voluntarily enter into collective security arrangements.

Article 51 of the UN Charter reads as follows:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.7

Notably, both the treaty and the UN Charter confirmed that a state possesses the rights of self-defence as well as collective self-defence. This argument clearly extends to Japan. As the term ‘inherent’ shows, a traditional view regards the rights of self-defence and collective self-defence as customary law. Moreover, no previous debates denying a state’s right of self-defence have ever been acknowledged.8

By employing these stipulations, the group justified its argument: Japan has the right of self-defence even under Article 9 of the Constitution; however, Japan should not exercise the right of collective self-defence despite its possession of it. The 'inherent right of self-defence’ thus provided the grounds for the Japanese government to justify both the possession of the SDF and the Security Treaty with the US. Having US troops on Japanese soil for its national security without any obligation to defend the US would not be regarded as a collective self-defence arrangement and would therefore be constitutional.9

However, successive governments contended that Japan was not allowed to dispatch armed troops to foreign lands, seas, or airspace and thus deploy military power. Such action would generally exceed the minimum level of force required for self-defence, therefore violating Article 9. Based on this interpretation, they maintained the interpretation that the use of armed force was confined to the following three cases: 1) there is an imminent and illegitimate act of aggression against Japan; 2) there are no appropriate means to repel this aggression other than the use of force, and 3) when the use of armed force is confined to be the minimum necessary level.10 However, the geographical scope of such exercise was not necessarily confined to Japanese territorial land, sea, or airspace. Depending on the situation, it may stretch to areas surrounding Japan. Moreover, Japan does not possess what is referred to as 'offensive weapons’ because such weapons exceed the minimum necessary level. For instance, the SDF is not allowed to possess intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range strategic bombers, or offensive aircraft carriers. Thus, the exclusively defence-oriented policy was maintained.

However, in 2015, this interpretation changed slightly. The LDP government revised the conditions for using force. The main modification was that Japan could use force in the case, in addition to an attack against Japan itself, of an armed attack against a foreign country in a close relationship with Japan and thus threatening Japan’s survival and posing a clear risk that people’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness might be fundamentally overturned.11

The LDP government thus changed the traditional interpretation by arguing that UN Charter Article 51 confirms that all states have the right of collective self-defence and that Japan was no exception; therefore, Japan was allowed to exercise that right as long as such exercise did not violate Article 9 of the Constitution. Previously, the 'normal state’ idea group conceded the use of force only for self-defence. However, this view was modified and extended to collective self-defence, albeit in a limited manner.

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