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Politics & Security

Collective Self-defence is a Political Exercise, Independent of the Constitution




James E. Auer (Emeritus Professor of Vanderbilt University)


(Part 5 of 7)

I started this series as an attempt to debunk seven myths about Japan’s national security policy. Living in a democracy, and in peace time, a number of Japanese people have understandably not given much thought to national security issues, especially the possibility and dangers of war. The consequence, however, is citizens sometimes being persuaded by false arguments from the liberal media or from domestic or foreign critics.


Read the other parts of the series here:


Myth 1: Myth 1: Japan has no national security policy, and Tokyo only blindly follows the United States.  


Myth 2: Japan’s alliance with the US is dangerous—Japan might become “entrapped” in America’s “global strategy.”  


Myth 3: Constitution allows Japan to build military forces – just ask MacArthur


Myth 4: The Constitution of Japan allows only “the minimum level of self-defense capability.”




Myth 5: The 1972 Cabinet decision prohibiting the exercise of collective self-defense was required by the Constitution.


In 1972, in order to overcome an opposition boycott of Diet budget hearings, the Eisaku Sato Kakuei Tanaka government responded with a statement crafted by the Cabinet Legislative Office. It said that, although Japan had the legal right of collective self-defense, exercise of that right would be more than the minimum amount necessary to defend Japan and was, therefore, prohibited by Article 9.  


The political decision to accept that position was legal; however, the position was not dictated by Article 9. As stated in the wording the wording of the Article itself, and as clearly affirmed by the Japanese Supreme Court in 1959, it does not prohibit Japan from exercising the right of self-defense.


The landmark 1959 Sunagawa Court decision stated that self-defense is legal. Mr.  Ashida admitted years later that he changed the wording of the draft Article 9 in order to allow Japan more flexibility, such as self-defense. Later, the same court decision also stated that the amount of legal self-defense is a political decision.



Japan happens to be located geographically in a very dangerous area proximate to at least two, if not three, nuclear armed nations:  China, Russia, and North Korea. So even Japan’s minimum level of self-defense could be quite high.


Almost continuously since 1952, the United States has encouraged Japan to increase its defense efforts, owing to the dangerous threat environment in East Asia faced by Japan and the US. And Japan has increased its defense budget. Still, even today, it is not capable of autonomous self-defense.  


The Abe Cabinet’s legal, political decision of 2014 made clear that collective actions directly related to Japan’s security are permissible. It replaced the 1972 political decision, which was also legal at that time but which made no strategic sense as time went on and the national security threats to Japan increased.   

Prime Minister Abe’s partial measures to expand Japan’s right to use collective self-defense have been criticized within Japan and by the Chinese. They have, however, been strongly supported by the US and many Southeast Asian nations, reflecting the view that Japanese efforts are reasonable and moderate rather than illegal.

Both the Sunagawa Court decision and the Charter of the United Nations would allow Japan to do more than it is currently doing, or more than the new situations identified by the Abe Cabinet decision of July 1, 2014, that authorize the limited use of collective self-defense.





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