On February 9, 2015, Valentina Gullo from IsAG (the Institute for Advanced Study of Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences) met with Dr. Akiko Fukushima in...

On February 9, 2015, Valentina Gullo from IsAG (the Institute for Advanced Study of Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences) met with Dr. Akiko Fukushima in Rome to discuss the implications and perspectives of the National Security Strategy of Japan. During their discussion, they addressed the importance of networking among scholars, research institutes and think tanks globally, underlining the need for effective and systematic international knowledge sharing.

Dr. Akiko Fukushima is currently Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, Japan. She was previously Director of Policy Studies and Senior Fellow of the National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA), Senior Fellow at the Japan Foundation and Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia Canada. She is concurrently a member of the International Advisory Board of the EU-Asia Centre in Brussels and co-editor of Global Governance magazine. She is also a member of Prime Minister Abe’s Advisory Panel on National Security and Defense Capabilities.

This interview provides an overview of the security environment in the Asia-Pacific from the Japanese perspective. It also delves into fundamental aspects of the National Security Strategy of Japan and its implications for Japan’s foreign and security policies. The reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is a much-discussed topic, and Valentina Gullo believes that such a move would have a considerable impact not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but globally. Furthermore, the practical implications of reinterpretation are often neglected, with consequences not only the defense sector but on wider issues such as development assistance, the economy, international cooperation and multilateral processes. These topics were discussed in-depth in the following interview.

V.G.: Of late, the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, promoted by PM Abe’s administration, has been a widely discussed topic internationally, especially following the brutal murder of two Japanese citizens kidnapped by IS. Could you please outline what have been the main elements of continuity and change of the interpretation of Article 9 with reference to previous Japanese administrations? How has the interpretation evolved?

A.F: I am not a constitutional lawyer, so for a more precise understanding of the evolution of the interpretation, please refer to the writings of legal experts.

What I can share with you today is my personal understanding of the evolution of the interpretation of Article 9. In 1946, when the draft Constitution was deliberated at the Japanese Diet, a question was asked: “What does Article 9 mean for the Japanese right to self-defense?” Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida responded: “If Japan becomes a member of the United Nations, Japan will be protected by the U.N. Charter.” Thus at the time of the enactment of the Constitution of Japan, the Japanese Government anticipated that it would entrust the security of Japan to the collective security system of the U.N.

At that time, Japan thought the U.N. would function as a collective security organ, but it was soon paralyzed due to the East-West divide. Japan had to modify its interpretation. In 1954, Japan established its Self Defense Forces (SDF). The issue of the constitutionality of SDF was raised in the Diet and the response of Mr. Ōmura, then Director General of Defense Agency, was: «The Constitution, while renouncing war, has not renounced the right to self-defense. To repel armed attack in the event of an attack from other countries is self-defense itself, and is essentially different from settling international disputes. Hence, the use of force as an instrument for defending national territory when an armed attack has been launched against the nation does not violate the Constitution. It is not a violation of the Constitution for Japan to set up an armed force such as the SDF».

In 1959, the case was discussed at the Supreme Court, and the Court ordained that Japan required the necessary means to protect itself. It was stated that, «Article 9 renounces so-called war and prohibits the maintenance of the so-called war potential prescribed in the Article, but there is nothing in it which denies the inherent right of self-defense of Japan as a sovereign nation. Pacifism in our Constitution by no means stipulates defenselessness or nonresistance…It is only natural for our country, in the exercise of powers inherent to a state, to take measures of self-defense necessary to maintain its peace and security, and to ensure its survival.» Thus the judiciary rendered that Article 9 of the Constitution does not deny the right of self-defense and it is natural for Japan to take the necessary self-defense measures to maintain peace and security and ensure its survival. It is worth noting that the distinction between the right to individual self-defense and the right to collective self-defense was not made at this time.

The debate over the right to collective self-defense emerged when the Japan-US Security Treaty was revised in 1960. That year Prime Minister Kishi (the grandfather of current Prime Minister Shinzō Abe), responded to the question with the following. «If a country which shares especially close relations with Japan is subject to armed attack, under the current Constitution Japan does not possess the right of collective self-defense in the sense of Japanese forces going to the attacked country and protecting that country.»

This is how the narrative of the right to collective self-defense came into play. However, the Government subsequently took the view that the exercise of the right to collective self-defense was not permitted under the Constitution. For example, in 1981 the Government presented its view to the Diet in writing, noting that «it is only natural for our country to have the right of collective self-defense under international law, as a sovereign nation. The Government nevertheless takes the view that the right of self-defense permitted under Article 9 of the Constitution is limited to the minimum extent necessary for the defense of the country. The Government believes that the exercise of the right to collective self-defense exceeds this and is not permitted under the Constitution.» The Government has maintained this interpretation. The tone of the narrative was that Japan was not supposed to provide even logistical support to allies, as this would constitute collective self-defense. Since the 1990’s, through the introduction of various special legal measures , Japan was able to start providing logistical support overseas to allies and to countries that have close relations with Japan, so long as the deployment was not in a combat area.

In July 2014 a Cabinet Decision was taken to change the interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution. Parliamentary bills related to the change will be deliberated in the Diet in spring this year to allow changes to be reflected.

Japan currently maintains a military only for its own defense, and has previously interpreted the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution as meaning that Japan cannot engage in what is known as “collective self-defense”. Do you think Japan\’s security can be effectively guaranteed through the right of individual self-defense alone?

I think a lot can be done through the right of individual self-defense, however in this interconnected globalized world, there is always a limit to what we can do through this alone. Moreover, under Article 51 of the UN Charter, all UN member states are recognized to have both the right of self-defense and the right to collective self-defense. In that sense I do not see any particular reason to limit ourselves only to the right of individual self-defense. Given the current global and regional security environment, I think it is time to change the interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution.

Could you please explain which are the main arguments supporting a reinterpretation of Japanese constitution?

First, it is to give Japan sufficient deterrence ability and to provide the capacity to protect Japan and its people. The second reason is to make Japan a country that can work together with other nations to build international peace and stability. To illustrate my point, if you, Valentina, and I were walking together on the street and I was attacked, you would be obliged to come to my aid. However, if you were attacked, I would like to help, but would not be allowed to do so because I am unable to exercise the right to collective self-defense. If I did not help you in that critical moment, would you be able to trust me? Would you like to work with me in future? This is not the way globalized world works. Thus the second argument is to be a reliable partner in global security. There are, of course, other elements too.

Could you please explain what “proactive contribution to Peace” means? What are the main implications of the application of this concept?

F: “Proactive contribution to peace, based on the principle of international cooperation” is the philosophy that we set out in the National Security Strategy of Japan. We have been a pacifist country and that will not change. Pacifism is very strong in the hearts and minds of Japanese people. What we had in the past, however, was “reactive” pacifism, meaning, “We are pacifist. Therefore we are not going to do anything proactively but remain passive and react when asked to”. This approach was acceptable in the international community for a long time. However, as the Cold War came to an end, the international community expected Japan to contribute more to international peace and security, beyond merely economic activities. Japan had certainly been proactive in taking actions in areas where it had capabilities. For example Japan has been providing Official Development Assistance (ODA) since 1954 and was the highest donor country for such assistance during the 1990s.

Nonetheless Japan was criticized among the international community for being too reactive in its handling of security issues. For example, in the 1990-91 Gulf War, Japan contributed 13 billion dollars but could not send SDF because there were constitutional restrictions which prevented Japan from dispatching troops. After the Gulf War, Japan sent maritime SDF ships to sweep mines in the Gulf. While the United States and its allies expressed their gratitude to Japan, there was little awareness of this contribution outside of the field of defense and diplomacy professionals. Japan’s contribution went almost unnoticed in the international community. Although Japan made enormous financial contributions, it was always piecemeal, responding to requests as they came. This was deemed by some as unwilling and reactive. This is just one example, but there are many others of how people perceived Japan as being too passive on international peace and security.

As a result of this experience, Japan felt that it ought to be more proactive and, in fact, it has been. Since 1992, when the Diet passed the PKO Law, Japan has sent SDF and Japanese civilians on UN peace missions in Cambodia, Golan Heights, Timor-Leste and, currently, South Sudan to name a few. Thus we have gradually shifted to being more proactive than reactive in our contribution to international peace and security, and have announced it as our philosophy in the National Security Strategy.

I hasten to add that Japan does not plan to act alone on international peace and security issues. Japan wants to act with other countries who share common objectives and values. That is the philosophy of Japan’s proactive contribution to peace based on international cooperation.

As for concrete changes, Japan announced its new principles on the transfer of defense equipment and technology, and its change of interpretation of Article 9, based on the National Security Strategy, as we have already discussed. The change of the interpretation will be further deliberated in the Diet in the context of related bills in spring. In addition, on February 10th 2015, Japan announced its new Development Cooperation Charter (formerly called the ODA Charter) to codify proactive contribution to peace in the field of Japan’s international cooperation. Japan provides ODA based on the notion of ‘human security’. Since 1998, Japan has been promoting and implementing ‘human security’, based on the ideas of ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’, so that people can live with dignity. Although we have placed more emphasis on ‘freedom from want’ in the past, we will address both freedoms more in future.

Some are concerned that a reinterpretation of the constitution could lead to a deterioration of Japan\’s relations with neighbors such as China and South Korea. What are the main concerns of Japan’s neighbors and do you think they are valid concerns?

I do not think that anybody needs to worry unduly about the change of interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Referring to the cabinet decision, I think there is no reason for China, Korea or others to feel concerned by it. As I have already mentioned, necessary bills to reflect the change in interpretation are now being prepared for Diet deliberations. As a scholar I would need to read the laws first to discuss further.

Certainly whenever there is a change, people do worry. Perceptions may affect our intentions. It is incumbent upon Japan to explain what we are going to do and get good understanding from our neighbors and beyond so that we can defuse any unnecessary concerns overseas. Japan will make efforts to explain its intentions. At the same time if our Italian colleagues could share their views on changes to come, particularly with respect to Article 11 of the Italian Constitution, that would be very helpful.

Part of the opposition against the reinterpretation of Japanese Constitution is domestic, and comes not only from the political sphere, but also from civil society. Why is Japanese public opinion opposed to a reinterpretation of Article 9?

Japan is a country with freedom of speech. When the cabinet decision was announced last July, I checked editorials of Japanese newspapers. I will not mention a particular one, but some wrote: “this is reckless”, “this is going too far”, while some wrote “Finally, Japan is going to have deterrence capacity”, “Finally Japan can be a trustworthy country to work with”. The newspaper editorials were divided. Obviously, there is a strong element in the society which opposes change.

However the Japanese public understands the changes as they learn more. Let me give you one example. In 1992, the Japanese Diet passed the Peacekeeping Cooperation Law (also known as the “PKO Law”), which was a law to allow the dispatch of Japanese SDF to UN peacekeeping missions and humanitarian activities. At the time, the majority of the Japanese public said: «we do not want to send our SDF for combat overseas. We will not send our children to fight in foreign wars». The Japanese public did not actually understand a peacekeeping mission. In one newspaper, a very strong editorial said: “it is an absurd decision to introduce PKO law, which is to kill our boys and girls. Even for the sake of world peace, this can’t be tolerated”. After ten years, the same newspaper eventually changed its position and wrote that it is Japan’s international responsibility to deploy people for peacekeeping missions. In the opinion polls, this time a majority supported Japan dispatching the SDF to peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance operations overseas. Today the majority of the Japanese public supports Japan’s participation in PKO missions and humanitarian efforts and takes pride in making such a contribution. Thus the public gradually understood what exactly it would entail.

Practically speaking, under what circumstances would Japan be able to deploy its military forces, according to Abe\’s new interpretation?

In order to respond to this question we will have to wait until new laws are enacted. The bills will be deliberated in the Diet in spring after the local elections. Political parties have their own views on the circumstances in which Japan should be able to send the SDF overseas. Our ruling party is a coalition. Therefore LDP has to consult the Kōmeitō Party before they submit the bill for Diet deliberations. There will be deliberations, negotiations and a final decision will be made. I cannot predict the outcome of the parliamentary debate and will closely watch the debate on how Japan will defend itself, how it will provide logistical support, how it will further its participation in UN peacekeeping operations, and how it will protect its nationals abroad in case of crisis.

Last April, The Government of Japan, in accordance with its National Security Strategy, set out \”the Three Principles of Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology\” which replace \”the Three Principles on Arms Exports and Their Related Policy Guidelines\”. This is related to the matter of logistical support we just discussed. Could you please outline the main points and differences between the new Three Principles and the old ones, and explain their significance for the framework of Japanese Security Policy?

The change of principles was proposed in the National Security Strategy. As for the previous three principles, it was in 1967 when Prime Minister Sato introduced the principles for Japan not to export defense equipment to communist countries, countries embargoed by the UN and countries under conflict. However in 1976, Prime Minister Miki introduced a comprehensive ban irrespective of the destination. This meant that Japan could not export nor jointly develop defense equipment and technology. Thus, when Japan sent SDF to UN missions, it had to bring back all the equipment, including dual use equipment, even when such technology was useful for local people and would not be considered ‘arms’ per se. Since 1986, Japan has introduced exceptions to the principles in individual cases when necessary, made by the Chief Cabinet Secretary, in order to adapt to various situations. Rather than continuing to issue exceptions each time, changes in principles were recommended which led to the issuance of new principles.

The new principles introduced in April 2014 are as follows;

1. Overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology will not be permitted when:
(1) the transfer violates obligations under treaties and other international agreements that Japan has concluded.
(2) The transfer violates obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions or
(3) The defense equipment and technology is destined for a country party to a conflict.

2. In cases not within principle 1 above, cases where transfers may be permitted will be limited to the cases outlined below. Those cases will be examined strictly while ensuring transparency. More specifically, overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology may be permitted in such cases as the transfer contributes to the active promotion of peace contribution and international cooperation, or to Japan’s security from the view point of:
– Implementing international joint development and production projects with countries cooperating with Japan in the security area, including its ally the US.
– Enhancing security and defense cooperation with allies and partners, as well as
– Supporting the activities of the SDF including the maintenance of equipment and ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals.

3. Ensuring appropriate control regarding extra-purpose use or transfer to third parties. In case satisfying Principle 2 above, overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology will be permitted only in cases where appropriate control is ensured.

Could you please outline the main security challenges in the Asia Pacific region from the Japanese perspective?

Since we are living in a world where unpredictable incidents occur, it is very difficult for an academic like myself to predict. For example did any of us predict that the Ukraine situation would have evolved to this extent on January 1st 2014? I had some awareness of the Ukraine situation since I had the chance to visit and conduct research on the gas pipeline case. Nevertheless, I did not predict that the Ukraine situation would develop to the extent that Crimea would be annexed by Russia and that eastern Ukraine would be in its present situation. It is hard for an academic to predict such a scenario.

However, we do have concerns about the Asia-Pacific region. For instance, the possible impact of IS in the Asia-Pacific. We have many Muslim countries in this region and each one of them has been closely observing the situation. Nobody can tell what kind of impact it will have from here. Events in Europe, the Middle East and Africa do have some impact in the Asia-Pacific too. Moreover some countries such as, North Korea for example, are closely watching how things develop in Ukraine and how the international community will react to the situation and actions taken by certain countries. On the subject of North Korea, I have concerns about their development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

China’s rise is seizing attention in the Asia-Pacific region. China is a growing economy, which is plus for the Asia-Pacific economies. China is concerned that their growth is declining from two digits growth to slightly above 7%, which is significant compared with other countries in the region. While China’s economic rise is welcomed, the rise of China in its military force is a concern, as is its lack of transparency. China is also active and assertive in the maritime security of East and South China Sea. The Asia-Pacific region wants China to respect the rule of law.
Nonetheless, I do not think any country in the Asia-Pacific region is keen to start a war. Rather, they are keen to prevent war and to promote economic growth and prosperity.

Japan’s contribution to Asia Pacific stability after the WWII is undeniable. From a Japanese perspective, how do you view the present state of regionalism and multilateralism in Asia Pacific? What are the main issues to overcome?

That is a good question. What is your observation?

I think that, with respect to the Asia-Pacific region, a major problem is the huge level of diversity between countries. It means that each country has different necessities with respect to others. Regarding regionalism and multilateralism, it is necessary to identify common goals. I think this is something difficult to do for such diverse and divided countries, and it is necessary to find “common ground”.

As you pointed out we do have diversity in the Asia-Pacific, which prevented regionalism from taking root until 1990. The region was said to be void of regionalism except for ASEAN. However since the launch of APEC in 1990 and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994, the region has witnessed the creation of numerous regional architectures to the extent that it is portrayed as “a spaghetti bowl” or “alphabet soup”. The regional process started with the footprint of the Asia-Pacific and then evolved into East Asia with then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir ‘s proposal of EAEG. Although EAEG was not realized, East Asia regional architecture has been built in a form of ASEAN plus three, the three being Japan, China and Korea. Then in 2005 the East Asia Summit (EAS) was created which included India, Australia and New Zealand in addition to the members of ASEAN plus three. During this process, there was a perception that there was competition over ‘East Asia’ versus ‘Asia-Pacific’. However both the US and Russia have joined EAS subsequently, making the geographical footprint once again the Asia-Pacific rather than East Asia.

Thus in spite of the diversity you pointed out, the region now has multilayered regional architectures for economic and security issues, aimed at the common objectives of peace, stability and prosperity. Some processes have resulted in concrete cooperative action. For example, the ADMM+ (ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting +) is implementing practical, and pragmatic cooperation, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises. Such exercises are conducive to trust building amongst different militaries and proved to be effective in response to the Philippine typhoon which struck in November 2013.

If you asked this question to anyone from the Asia-Pacific region, they would say that multilateralism matters in Asia-Pacific, for peace, stability and prosperity, particularly when we are all interdependent and interconnected.

Meanwhile China was reluctant to participate in region-wide efforts in the early 1990s, which caused others in the region make efforts to engage China. There has been a sea change since then. China now has numerous regional initiatives, including the CICA (Conference on Integration and Confidence Building Measures in Asia) which was originally proposed by Kazakhstan but is further enhanced by China which is a current chair and the AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank). China, through its initiatives, stresses “Asian Values” and asserts that Asians should solve Asian problems. We do not yet know what “Asian Values” means for China.

Regionalism in Asia has its own challenges ahead. Countries however agree that we need to promote regional cooperation.

Within the framework of corporation, multilateralism and – as you mentioned – of solving “Asian problems in the Asian way”, if Article 9 will be actually reinterpreted, how would Japan’s role in the region change? From the perspective of international and regional cooperation, do you think there would be a substantial impact on the Asia Pacific balance?

I think Japan has been an active proponent of regionalism and that position will not change. We might not have led from the front, but may have been perceived as leading from behind. If legal changes enable us to do more, that should be a plus for regionalism, but as I said, I do not know the full details of the new laws yet. I believe that legal changes will not have a strong bearings on the regional balance and that Japan will continue to be a strong supporter and player of regional multilateralism.

Last October the ASEM Summit took place in Milan. According to some view, this very important forum connecting Asia and Europe lacks influence. Do you think we are facing a crisis of multilateralism? Which actions do you think should be taken? In particular, what contribution can be made by Japan towards a more effective multilateral system, especially at the level of Asia-Europe relations?

Before the Milan Summit, some of my academic colleagues overseas told me they thought ASEM was facing an existential crisis, but I do not agree. In this globalized world, Asia and the US have strong relationships across the Pacific. However, if you have a stool with just two legs, it will be very unstable. We all benefit from having another ‘leg’ and that is the reason why we have ASEM. The challenges we face are more transnational and global than ever and the prospective Europe-Asia link is very important if we are interested in stability of the whole world.
Maritime security is an important example of this. The area from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific is very important for Asia, and such sea-lanes of communication should be important for Europe, too. That is the reason why Japan is sending the MSDF to the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy, cooperating with the US, EU and NATO. Japan will soon send a commander to CTF 151 to act as commander for three months.

In Japan’s National Security Strategy, a section on cooperation alludes to EU-Japan and NATO-Japan cooperation, in addition to bilateral relations between Japan and European countries. Likewise, Japan is supportive of ASEM. If ASEM members have sufficient political will to work on common issues that can bring us together and give us a shared future. It has been difficult to maintain that process and people tend to focus on ASEM for only a few days around the summit meetings and forget about it shortly after. I think we have enough political will to work together and it would be very sad if we lose these benefits. It took energy to create ASEM, so why not keep it? We have to maintain the continuous process of consultation on common issues and, in effect, keep the ‘third leg’ of the stool.


Thanks to the Embassy of Japan in Italy for making possible this interview.

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