Japan's Cabinet has changed the interpretation of the Constitution to enable the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense. The decision marks a major turnaround in Japan's post-war security policy.
The Cabinet approved what it calls the "Cabinet Decision on Development of Seamless Security Legislation to Ensure Japan's Survival and Protect its People" at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday.
Past governments of Japan have long maintained that the country had the right to collective self-defense.
But they traditionally interpreted the war-renouncing Constitution to mean that Japan was not permitted to use the right.
The Cabinet says that until the reinterpretation, the government considered the use of force as permitted only in the event of an armed attack against Japan.
But it says that with the security environment surrounding Japan continuously changing, even an armed attack against a foreign country could threaten Japan's survival, depending on the attack's purpose, scale and manner.
The Cabinet says the government has concluded that the Constitution should be interpreted to permit the use of only necessary force for self-defense under certain conditions.
It says these include an armed attack on a foreign country that has close relations with Japan, and what it calls a clear danger of a threat to Japan's survival and a fundamental overturning of people's rights.
The document says it is natural to require assurance of civilian control. It says the government will stipulate in draft legislation that prior Diet approval is required in principle to order Japan's Self-Defense Forces to use force.
The decision comes after the governing Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, agreed on the draft earlier on Tuesday. The 2 parties have held rounds of talks on the issue.
In a news conference after the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed that Japan will only use its right to collective self-defense in limited cases.
Abe said the Cabinet didn't hold abstract or ideological discussions on whether exercising the right is allowed under the current Constitution.
He said the Cabinet discussed what should be done under the Constitution to protect the lives and peaceful livelihoods of the Japanese people.
Abe said US vessels may be attacked in waters near Japan, while carrying Japanese fleeing conflicts in foreign countries. He said the attacks may not be directed at Japan, but it will protect such vessels to protect its nationals' lives.
Abe said collective self-defense must be exercised with the minimum use of force, and restricted to cases in which there are no alternatives. He added that his Cabinet's decision won't change its basic stance on the interpretation of the Constitution.
Abe said Japan's Self-Defense Forces will never participate in combat situations, citing the Gulf and Iraq wars as examples.
He said there is a misunderstanding that Japan would have to enter wars for the sake of protecting foreign nations, but such cases won't happen.
Abe said making full preparations against possible threats would provide deterrence against any attempts to wage war against Japan. He said the Cabinet's decision will further decrease the potentiality of Japan to be involved in wars.
Abe said he will launch a team to draw up the necessary legislation and submit bills to the Diet. He added that he will continue to seek the understanding of the Japanese people on the matter.
Jul. 1, 2014 - Updated 13:05 UTC