YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The latest 2016 U.S. defense bill assumes Japan will adopt government-backed proposals on defending its allies, even though Japanese lawmakers have yet to vote on them.
“The United States supports recent changes in Japanese defense policy, including the adoption of collective self-defense and new bilateral guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation,” according to the House Armed Service Committee’s current version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet signed off on a reinterpretation last year of Japan’s pacifist, post-WWII constitution that would allow the nation to engage in “collective self-defense” with its allies for the first time since the war.
However, it isn’t a done deal yet, and the details on what situations collective self-defense would include — and under what circumstances it would be approved — have not yet been publicly debated.
Although the 2016 defense bill appears ahead of itself for now, most analysts believe it will eventually be correct in its assessment.
Abe’s party holds a comfortable majority and faces fragmented opposition in Japan’s national Diet, which makes it likely that revisions to about 10 laws will pass when introduced.
“The security-related bills are expected to face large opposition in the Diet,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, a think tank. “But no matter how fierce the opposition may be, the ruling parties have enough seats to pass them.”
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party rules in coalition with Komeito, a smaller party founded by a large Buddhist denomination.
The historically pacifist Komeito and the LDP have privately negotiated over the past year on limits to Japan’s future defense posture under the changes.
Without Komeito’s influence, authorization for collective self-defense wouldn’t pass the Diet, Watanabe said.
The measures could be opened to legislative debate later this month, according to a recent Asahi Shinbun report.
Abe’s security aspirations are widely supported by the Pentagon and the White House but remain controversial among Japanese.
Polls show support for missions like helping defend a U.S. warship under attack or rescuing Japanese hostages abroad — both of which are currently illegal under current law.
However, when asked if Japan “should play a more active military role” in regional affairs, only 23 percent agreed, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
When Abe visited the United States in April, the U.S. and Japan agreed to a revision of their bilateral security guidelines for the first time since 1997. The guidelines don’t specifically mention collective self-defense, but they leave room for “appropriate operations” if a Japanese ally is attacked.
Japan’s government views an attack on a close ally, such as the United States, as potentially threatening to Japan’s survival, according to the guidelines.