Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday stepped up his efforts to win support for Japan's planned defense reforms, speaking before the Diet in intensive discussions that highlighted criticism from opposition parties of his position.
Abe underscored the need for Japan to strengthen its security alliance with the United States by lifting its self-imposed ban on the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally under armed attack even when Japan itself is not subject to the attack, an issue that has caused debate even within the ruling bloc.
"I want to establish a solid defense system that will help enhance our deterrent force and ensure we can protect people's lives and properties," Abe told a session of the House of Representatives' Budget Committee.
"Further cooperation between Japan and the United States will contribute to the safety of Japan. It is especially vital," the premier said.
Japan's use of the collective self-defense right would be reflected in a revision of the guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation, he said, expressing his intention to discuss thoroughly "what Japan and the United States can do together" based on the framework for "devising security policy from a new standpoint."
Japan and the United States have agreed to update the guidelines again by the end of 2014.
The lower house session is the first full deliberation in parliament since Abe received a proposal on using the right from a panel of experts earlier this month when he also held a press conference and expressed his desire to implement a set of defense reforms to ease some postwar restrictions on the Self-Defense Forces.
Abe cited as an example of envisioned collective defense an emergency in which the SDF protects U.S. military vessels transporting Japanese citizens from a third country in the event of an emergency.
And he said that under the current interpretation by the government of the nation's pacifist Constitution, such an activity is prohibited.
Exercising the collective self-defense right requires the government to change the interpretation.
"We need to consider whether the Constitution bans every kind of collective self-defense, as well as whether we can really protect people's lives" with such restrictions, Abe said.
Japan's current position is that it has the right under international law but cannot exercise it due to the limits imposed by the war-renouncing Constitution that bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Even if it is concluded that Japan can use the right, Abe said, it still requires a "highly political decision" to determine that the country would actually use force. "The Cabinet then in power would comprehensively assess and carefully decide."
He hoped the SDF would expand its roles, saying, "We need legislation that would enable the SDF to make sufficient contributions with a wide range of logistical support when world peace is in danger."