Even South Korea’s upscale Lotte Hotel understands this is no time to appear chummy with Japanese officials. Abe’s July 1 decision to lift Japan’s ban on collective self-defense is refueling anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea, and this apparently has South Korean power elites – many of whom come from a lineage of wealth built through collaboration with the Japanese during its occupation of Korea – walking on egg shells. Lotte Hotel, which had agreed to host a Japanese embassy-sponsored 60th anniversary commemoration of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF), backed out at the last minute “in consideration of the public sentiment.”
The Japanese embassy, which was forced to relocate the July 11 event to the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Seoul, was met by protesters demanding cancellation of the event. “We oppose Abe’s distortion of history and denial of Japan’s past war crimes, as well as his reinterpretation of the constitution to assert collective self-defense,” read a press statement released by Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK), which organized the protest, “All these things legitimate the Abe government’s path towards war and aggression.”
Abe’s controversial decision drew swift condemnation not only in Korea but throughout the region as well as inside Japan. Two media surveys prior to Abe’s move found that half or more of the respondents opposed collective self-defense, according to the Japan Times. And support for Abe’s Cabinet fell afterward, with a majority of respondents saying they opposed the reinterpretation. Hiromu Nonaka, former general secretary of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), called Abe’s reinterpretation of the constitution ‘an outrage’. Article 9 of the Constitution, he said, “has made it possible for us Japanese to live in peace for 69 years after World War II,” and added, “It is an outrage that Japan has been put on a course for war again merely by changing the constitutional interpretation.”
The United States, on the contrary, was quick to applaud Abe’s decision. At a press conference after meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori on July 12, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed enthusiasm for Abe’s cabinet decision to exercise collective self-defense. “I welcome the Government of Japan’s new policy regarding collective self-defense, which will enable the Japan Self-Defense Forces to engage in a wider range of operations and make the U.S.-Japan alliance even more effective,” he said, “The new policy also complements our ongoing efforts to modernize our alliance through the revision of our bilateral guidelines for defense cooperation.”
Onodera, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC, reiterated Abe’s provocative “Japan is back” statement, and said Tokyo would “respond firmly” if China “disrupts the order” in waters contested by the two countries. On dealing with North Korea, he said, “Prime Minister Abe and President Obama agreed to deploy additional TPY-2 radar to Japan in February last year.” He also applauded U.S.’ strategic rebalance to Asia Pacific – “Japan fully welcomes the U.S. efforts to materialize the rebalance, and Japan fully supports such efforts.”
What exactly is collective self-defense? Japan’s assertion of collective self-defense, according to SPARK, is nothing less than a declaration of its intent to develop the capacity to launch and carry out a war without UN authorization. Read on for a translation of SPARK’s research institute analyst Park Ki-hak’s Abe’s Collective Self-Defense Spells Calamity for Northeast Asia. (Originally published in Ohmynews, May 21, 2014)
What is Collective Self-Defense?
Article 2 (4) of the United Nations (UN) Charter prohibits the threat or use of force. Article 51, however, says, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations,” and permits ‘individual or collective self-defense’ as an exception to the prohibition of use of force.
Here, the right to ‘individual self-defense’ means the right to defend oneself from an imminent and unjust foreign attack. And ‘collective self-defense’ means the right of a country to come to the aid and defense of another country under armed attack if it determines that the attack on that country is tantamount to an attack on itself.
The right to self-defense (whether individual or collective) can be exercised without prior authorization of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The exercise of self-defense, however, must be immediately reported to the UNSC and is a temporary stopgap until the UNSC can take appropriate measures. Collective self-defense can only be exercised when there is an actual armed attack underway and the country under attack has requested help.
Just because a county wishes to participate in defending another country under attack, however, it is not automatically guaranteed the right to collective self-defense. The right to collective self-defense is only recognized for countries that are so close – either in geographic proximity or political affinity – to the country under attack that an armed attack on that country significantly threatens their own sovereignty and security.
Distinction between Collective Self-defense and Collective Defense
One should not confuse collective self-defense with collective defense. Collective self-defense is a sovereign nation’s legal right guaranteed by the UN Charter. Collective defense, on the other hand, refers to defense carried out collectively by participant states of an alliance, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the U.S.-Japan alliance, or the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
NATO, U.S-Japan, and U.S.-South Korea alliances were created as part of U.S.’ strategy for global hegemony regardless of geographic proximity or political affinity among the participant states. The so-called ‘right to collective self-defense’ that Japan plans to exercise is actually collective defense. It is different from and actually violates the principle of collective self-defense as defined by article 51 of the UN Charter.
Based on article 51 of the UN Charter, Japan’s right to collective self-defense can only be recognized if an armed attack against the United States can legitimately be construed as tantamount to an attack against Japan, but that is unlikely given the nature of U.S.-Japan relations.
Japan purposefully obfuscates the two terms in order to bypass the UNSC in its exercise of collective defense. The so-called ‘right to collective self-defense’ has been asserted in the past by major powers, such as the United States, the former Soviet Union, Great Britain and France, as justification for invasion of or intervention in other countries without UN authorization.
Of the thirteen times that collective self-defense was asserted during the Cold War, five were later determined by the UN general assembly as illegal actions, and the rest also failed to meet the requirements for legitimate action. Determined to rearm itself as a military power, Japan now plans to join the ranks of countries that routinely misuse or abuse the so-called ‘right to collective self-defense’.
What Abe Means by Collective Self-Defense
Although collective self-defense is defined by the UN Charter as a right of all member countries, it has been prohibited for Japan by article 9 of its peace constitution in recognition of its past war crimes. Article 9 commits Japan to permanently renounce war and use of force as methods to resolve international conflicts and prohibits the possession of war potential as well as the right of belligerency by the state.
In 1981, then-LDP Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki’s cabinet reiterated in a government response to the Lower House that Article 9 allows only minimum level of force necessary for defense, and collective self-defense, as it goes beyond that scope, is prohibited by the constitution. All subsequent administrations have adopted the above interpretation that collective self-defense is unconstitutional.
The position of Abe’s cabinet, however, is that it is reinterpreting the peace constitution to assert Japan’s right to ‘collective self-defense.’ This is akin to putting itself above the constitution, as the constitution is not something that can simply be reinterpreted to further one’s own interest. This is why critics inside Japan are denouncing the cabinet’s action as ‘fascist’ and ‘in contempt of constitutionalism’.
Furthermore, potential scenarios of Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense, as envisioned by Abe, cannot be recognized as collective self-defense as defined by article 51 of the UN Charter. A report submitted by Abe’s Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security on May 15 outlines five scenarios for Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense – 1) Defense of U.S. naval vessels in high seas; 2) Interception of ballistic missiles en route toward the United States; 3) Using armed force to intercept and inspect suspicious foreign vessels in Japan’s vicinity; 4) Support to the United States when it is under armed attack; and 5) Minesweeping in maritime areas where navigation of Japanese ships is significantly affected.
Given that there has never been a country that has attacked a U.S. naval vessel or launched a ballistic missile toward the United States without a preemptive strike by the United States, Abe’s scenarios of ‘defense of U.S. naval vessels in high seas’ and ‘interception of ballistic missiles en route to the United States’ lack persuasion. And even if such attacks were to occur, they would not significantly threaten Japan’s own sovereignty or security to justify the exercise of collective self-defense.
‘Using armed force to intercept and inspect suspicious foreign vessels’ violates international law, which guarantees freedom of navigation. Furthermore, it is only possible between belligerent countries and therefore violates Japan’s constitution, which prohibits the right of belligerency. And the last scenario of minesweeping is already permitted by current laws regarding coast guard activity and does not require the invocation of collective self-defense.
The specific scenarios of ‘collective self-defense’ as envisioned by Abe are really not about collective self-defense. He nonetheless insists on calling it ‘collective self-defense’ in order legitimate Japan’s intent for use of armed force in offensive operations and avoid opposition and criticism from the rest of the world.
What the Unites States Wants from Japan’s ‘Collective Self-Defense’
Behind Abe’s ambition for ‘collective self-defense’ is U.S. intent. The United States, overextended around the globe, wants Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, with its state of the art capability, to join in U.S. military actions in the Asia Pacific region as well as around the world. The United States wants, most of all, for Japan’s SDF to play a leading role in containing China and in any future war against North Korea, as well as anchor the trilateral U.S.-Japan-South Korea military alliance.
Current law allow Japans’ SDF to only provide material supplies to U.S. naval vessels in international waters. But what the United States wants is for Japan’s SDF to not only provide logistics support but participate in joint defense operations should a U.S. naval vessel be attacked in international waters.
It also wants Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) to have the ability to conduct anti-submarine warfare or minesweeping operations in South Korean territorial waters. In case of a contingency on the Korean peninsula, the United States wants Japan’s SDF to escort U.S. military personnel and their families to safety in Japan. Furthermore, the United States, which has as its aim the occupation of North Korea, wants Japan’s SDF to be deployed to North Korea in the stabilization phase of the operation to disarm and reconstruct North Korea.
Assistance from the SDF would guarantee U.S. initiative in North Korea while keeping South Korea in check. The United States also wants Japan’s SDF and the South Korean military to adopt a joint missile defense operation system aimed at North Korea. The trilateral U.S.-Japan-South Korea combined operation system aimed at North Korea also provides a convenient justification for containing China.
The aim of Japan’s assertion of collective self-defense is to join the United States in combat missions against North Korea and China. Japan’s military strategy will thus be transformed into an offensive one and its Self-Defense Forces will be armed as an offensive apparatus. The concept of ‘dynamic defense force’ and ‘dynamic joint defense force,’ as outlined in Japan’s 2010 and 2014 National Defense Program Guidelines respectively, means developing the capacity to strike at long-range targets through the combined operation of its naval and air forces.
Japan also wanted to include preemptive strike capability against enemy bases in its 2014 Defense Guidelines but ultimately dropped the issue due to U.S. disapproval. Instead, Japan decided to create a combat unit with marine corps function. Furthermore, Japan possesses the technology to produce ballistic missiles and aircraft carriers, so it’s only matter of time before its SDF supersedes the offensive capability of the British, Russian, or French militaries.
Abe’s ‘Collective Self-Defense’ Spells Calamity for Northeast Asia
Japan’s exercise of ‘collective self-defense’ and the creation of the trilateral U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance will intensify the offensive characteristic of South Korea’s military strategy and can yield the following progression of events.
The South Korean military may assume an active role in the containment of China. For example, the role of South Korea’s missile defense system (Korean Air and Missile Defense) can expand beyond intercepting North Korea’s short-range missiles to detecting and intercepting North Korean or Chinese mid- to long-range missiles targeting U.S. bases in Japan or the continental United States.
Accordingly, the operational scope of the South Korean military may expand beyond the Korean peninsula to include mainland China and its coastal waters, as well as the South and East China Seas, and its weapon systems may be upgraded to include destroyers, combat planes, and radars capable of operations in Chinese territory. That means its military strategy too will transform from defense of the Korean peninsula to an offensive strategy aimed at neighboring countries. South Korea’s defense budget in this case will inevitably continue to balloon.
South Korea, aligned with the United States and Japan against China, Russia, and North Korea, will be mired in a new cold war on the Korean peninsula and the Northeast Asia region, and the prospect for peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula will become even more distant. And collective security in Northeast Asia, a necessary condition for long-term peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula, will become nothing more than a pipe dream.
South Korea, which will need to rely on Japan’s Marine Self-Defense Force’s anti-submarine warfare capability and the SDF’s intelligence capability, as well as its various weapon systems, will inevitably become subordinate to the Japanese military. Japan, on the other hand, now has the ability to exercise ‘collective self-defense’. As soon as it is ready to carry out joint operations with the U.S. or South Korean militaries, it can redeploy its troops on the Korean peninsula.
Japan’s exercise of ‘collective self-defense,’ therefore, is a direct threat to peace and security of the Korean peninsula as well as the region and can only spell calamity for Northeast Asia.