Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan views an attack by North Korea on the United States as a case in which it could exercise the right to collective self-defense.
It is rare for Abe to publicly name a country against which the right to come to the defense of allied nations under armed attack could be exercised. A government panel is discussing whether Japan should exercise the right by changing the government's current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.
Attending a session of a Diet committee, Abe also indicated that Japan may ease its rules on the use of weapons by Self-Defense Forces personnel participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Abe picked the scenario of if "North Korea attacked the United States." He then said, "When the international community imposes economic sanctions, we also have to discuss whether we should prevent weapons and ammunition from being transported to North Korea."
Abe was apparently referring to the possible deployment of the SDF or Coast Guard to inspect vessels destined for North Korea as a means of collective self-defense even if Japan itself is not under attack.
"I shouldn't have named a specific country. But I presented North Korea as an example to ensure my story is understood more easily," Abe said during the House of Representatives' Budget Committee session, in which he was questioned by opposition lawmakers.
On the use of weapons by the SDF in U.N. operations, Abe said, "It might be necessary to use weapons to rescue the troops of other countries when they are under attack."
The government panel of experts is expected to propose to Abe as early as April that Japan lift its self-imposed ban on collective self-defense, which experts say is allowed to all countries under international law, by reinterpreting the Constitution.
The government's current interpretation is that Japan cannot exercise the right due to constraints under the war-renouncing supreme law that forbids the use of force as a means to settle international disputes.