New legislation body head eager to discuss collective self-defense

The new head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau said Monday he is eager to discuss reviewing the government's current interpretation of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution over whether the country can exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Ichiro Komatsu, former Japanese ambassador to France, said in an interview with Kyodo News that the bureau will be "proactively involved" in debating whether to change the current government interpretation.

Komatsu was appointed chief of the legislation body, which offers legal advice to Cabinet members, on Aug. 8.

Successive governments have maintained that Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense because doing so would exceed the minimum necessary to defend itself, as permitted under the pacifist Constitution.

The head of the legislation bureau, which has for years upheld the interpretation, has customarily been picked from within its ranks.

But with the rare appointment of a Foreign Ministry official as new director general of the bureau, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to accelerate work aimed at enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense so that it can come to the defense of an ally under armed attack.

In the interview, Komatsu said successive governments' constitutional interpretations have "not been unilaterally decided" by the bureau and any conclusion on the issue of collective self-defense will be made "by the Cabinet as a whole."

Komatsu said the general public "misunderstands" the role of the legislation bureau and believes it has a "final say" on legal interpretations.

The new bureau chief, who served as director general of the Foreign Ministry's International Legal Affairs Bureau from August 2005 to July 2008, was part of a panel of experts under the first Abe Cabinet between 2006 and 2007 that examined the issue of exercising the country's right to collective self-defense.

The panel, re-established after Abe's Liberal Democratic Party regained power last December, is scheduled to submit a report later this year on whether to lift Japan's self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.

Komatsu said the legislation bureau "needs to fully heed the discussions" of the expert panel. He also said the organization will attach great importance to ensuring "the stability, continuity and consistency of legal interpretations as Japan is a nation ruled by law."

The bureau head said the U.N. Charter recognizes the right to collective self-defense for sovereign nations and there are no legal problems.