The offensive continues

Yesterday I wrote that the Abe Cabinet launched an “offensive” on the question of collective self-defense.

It seems that that offensive continued today, with Prime Minister Abe meeting with Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, co-chair of the groups that produced the two reports on the US-Japan alliance that bear his name (alongside Joseph Nye), and all-around advocate of greater US-Japan cooperation. (At present, it seems that Sankei is the only major daily covering this story.)

The article reports [my translation]: “Armitage said after the talk, ‘If the conclusion leads to more flexibility, it will be good for Japan. He indicated his hope that Japan will become able to exercise its right of collective self-defense. On the other hand, he pointed out that ‘it’s Japan’s decision’ and he stressed that Japan is struggling [with the issue] itself.”

I expect that in advance of this weekend’s summit, Armitage will inform the president about the contents of his conversation with Abe — and whoever else he happens to meet while visiting — making clear to the president that Abe is committed to overcoming the prohibition on collective self-defense, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of greater US-Japan security cooperation.

Thus Armitage’s meeting with Abe is as much a part of the offensive as remarks in the Diet by Abe’s senior advisers, helping to clear the ground in Washington for changes that could be in the offing.

Those changes are far from guaranteed, however, as Komeito Secretary General Kitagawa Kazuo made clear in his remarks in the Diet today, in which he warned the government to be “prudent” in its reconsideration of the prohibition on the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, suggesting that the current interpretation provides for the cases under consideration.

Nevertheless, as I said yesterday, the push for reinterpretation may prove more important than constitution revision, which remains a distant prospect, the national referendum bill notwithstanding. Washington must be ready, however, to work with Tokyo to determine the structure of the alliance should Japan become able to act as a full (or fuller) ally.

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