Is security policy back on the agenda?

On the same day that Foreign Minister Komura addressed the Munich Conference on Security Policy and promised that Japan, as a “peace cooperation state,” would take up greater international responsibilities by participating in peacekeeping operations, Yamasaki Taku — LDP faction leader and troubleshooter — told reporters that the governing parties will form a project team “within the month” to investigate a permanent law on JSDF overseas dispatch. He added, “We want to have informal discussions with the DPJ beforehand.”

A possible bipartisan agreement on a permanent law was supposedly a product of the meetings between Messrs. Fukuda and Ozawa last autumn, but the issue appeared to have been removed from the top of the agenda after the messy aftermath of the Fukuda-Ozawa meetings and the government’s overriding the HC veto on the anti-terror law. The DPJ certainly seemed in no hurry to revive it, given the fight within the DPJ and between the DPJ and other opposition parties over the refueling mission, and both parties seemed content to fight once again over matters closer to home.

Why, I wonder, is the Fukuda government moving on this issue now? Whatever possibility there was of an LDP-DPJ agreement on a permanent law last year, I suspect a bipartisan agreement will prove elusive now. After the debacle in January, when the other opposition parties forced the DPJ to accept an HC vote on the refueling mission, I don’t think Mr. Ozawa would like to revisit the thorny question of JSDF dispatch. In response to Mr. Yamasaki’s request for discussions on a permanent law, the DPJ may make the bar for dispatch so high, in accordance with the party’s UN-centered line, that the government will be forced to draft a law on its own or else abandon the project. And if the government goes it alone, will it be willing to use the supermajority again to pass a permanent law?

In the meantime, the DPJ will undoubtedly criticize the government for its inattentiveness to domestic problems, of which there is no shortage.

Whatever the merits of a permanent law authorizing JSDF participation in PKO, the political wisdom of the government’s pushing for one now is questionable. Mr. Fukuda arguably hasn’t made enough progress on other issues, not least the pensions question, to have the assent of the Japanese people in placing a foreign policy matter at the forefront of public discussion.

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