Both parties are stepping up their preparations for the fight over a new bill that will likely occur in the autumn special session.
When the Fukuda government agreed to Komeito’s demand to limit the bill to one year, I assumed that by doing so the government was implicitly declaring that the refueling mission would last for one year and no longer, that the government would not be inclined to fight the same battle all over again the following year. That may still be the case, but for now it appears that not only is the government willing to fight to extend the refueling mission again, but it wants to up the ante by passing a permanent law on JSDF dispatch that will obviate the need for a new anti-terror bill.
To that end, the LDP-Komeito project team responsible for drawing up the dispatch law held its first meeting last week. The PT offered three principles: (1) it will respect the limits of the constitution and not ask for a new constitutional interpretation that permits collective self-defense; (2) it will respect civilian control and Diet approval; and (3) the government — as opposed to an individual member — will submit the bill. The LDP would like to submit a bill at the beginning of the special session, presumably in order to leave the government time to use Article 59 to override HC rejection in the event of DPJ intransigence, but it appears that Komeito wants to go slowly on this issue.
The DPJ, meanwhile, will have none of it. Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general, announced last week that the DPJ will not change its position on the refueling mission: the party’s answer is still no. As for a permanent JSDF dispatch law, Mr. Hatoyama was circumspect, not surprisingly given that the DPJ suggested previously that it might be willing to support such a law. He stated simply, “It is impossible for a cabinet with low approval ratings to accomplish this.”
The DPJ’s position is obviously open to revision, thanks in part to Ozawa Ichiro’s mercurial tendencies. But the pressure is on the government to determine the best course of action. That decision will obviously depend on whether Mr. Fukuda survives long enough to make it. I suspect that if Mr. Fukuda is still in office at the start of the next Diet session, and if his numbers haven’t improved, he will be disinclined to commit to a fight on either a permanent dispatch or a new refueling bill. The agenda will be crowded enough as the prime minister seeks to pass his plan to end the road construction fund into law, and Mr. Fukuda will be poorly positioned to fight a separate battle on foreign policy. In place of the refueling mission, he might entertain a discussion with the DPJ on aid to Afghanistan in another form.
As such, while Mr. Fukuda mentioned the refueling mission in a line in his address last week and said “we must continue” the mission, I suspect we will hear less about it as the summer progresses. (It’s also worth noting that the prime minister mentioned the refueling mission not in the context of the US-Japan alliance but in the context of Japan’s acting as “peace cooperation state.”)
It will likely be all or nothing at all: permanent dispatch law, or the ships come home again.