The stakes of the anti-terror law debate

The DPJ has wasted no time in using its new found power to pressure the government.

Two days into the Diet session, Mr. Ozawa has lambasted the government’s suggestion that it will use its House of Representatives supermajority to override Upper House rejection of an anti-terror law. Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Komura said that a new law that excluded provisions requiring Diet approval was “no problem whatsoever” for civilian control. In response, Mr. Ozawa wielded the mandate he believes his party earned in the Upper House elections, warning that the government risked intensifying public opposition if it were to ignore the will of the people on this issue.

The LDP’s Upper House caucus, however, perhaps chastened by the election, is reportedly concerned about the passage of a new law that ignores the House of Councillors. Yamazaki Masaaki, the LDP’s Upper House secretary-general, has expressed his desire that the government prioritize reaching agreement with the opposition, thus including the Upper House in the process. Komeito, too, has cautioned its coalition partner to not run too far ahead of public opinion on this issue so as not to provoke public backlash.

Officials in the LDP are obviously not blind to the risks they run if they ram the bill through over Upper House opposition. Yamasaki Taku, the former party vice president, is chairing the LDP’s committee on the bill, and emphasized that the onus is on the party to explain its reasoning and persuade the people. Regarding the use of the House of Representatives supermajority to pass the law, Mr. Yamasaki said, “It is essential that we do so together with two-thirds support from the people.”

That is the choice facing the LDP: will it put ideology over the democratic process? Will it lead the public, which necessitates the public’s actually following the government, or will it act independent of the wishes of the Japanese people and the opposition in the Diet?

As Asahi writes in its editorial today, this is a fundamental question for Japanese democracy (perhaps this is what Mr. Abe means by “casting off the postwar regime”). The trend in the US away from legislative approval for the use of armed forces abroad should not be emulated in Japan. The commitment of a nation’s armed forces abroad, even if only to contribute logistical support far from the battlefield, is a solemn decision that must be made by the nation’s representatives. Just because the US Congress has failed to exercise its prerogative since the end of the cold war doesn’t mean that the Diet should do the same. Indeed, in Germany, the Constitutional Court during the 1990s strengthened provisions requiring the Bundestag’s approval before sending the Bundeswehr abroad. Why shouldn’t Japan do the same?

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