Yesterday, Prime Minister Abe said at a press conference, “As the era changes, I want to have a debate about how the constitution should be interpreted.”
At the Diet, controversial LDP PARC chairman Nakagawa Shoichi gave a speech explaining the thinking behind the collective self-defense study group. (The same article reports that in accordance with Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki’s reassurance that any recommendations made by the study group will go through the normal LDP policy channels, Ishiba Shigeru, JDA director-general under Koizumi and currently chairman of the LDP-PARC National Defense division, Defense Policy Investigative Subcommittee, will spearhead the debate.)
Then, today, Defense Minister Kyuma reiterated to the press the points made by Abe yesterday about the importance of reviewing the constitutional interpretation that prohibits the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.
The Abe Cabinet’s push behind the review is important, perhaps more important than the push to revise the Constitution — because reinterpreting the constitution to permit collective self-defense, even in limited cases, is a far easier way of strengthening Japanese security policy than revising the constitution. Should the government succeed, it will impact the US-Japan alliance immediately, directly, and concretely.
Perhaps this reflects a tactical shift by the cabinet, recognizing that with constitution revision a distant prospect, the government’s efforts are better spent trying to realize a very real policy shift in the short term. There is probably a PR element too, allowing Abe to demonstrate to President Bush this weekend that his government is pushing all-out for a more generous reinterpretation of the constitution.
But make no mistake: reinterpreting the constitution would be a hugely important step in the normalization of Japanese security policy.