Tracking Abe's Security Bills

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long wanted to enhance the country's defense, as well as contribute more proactively to global peace. He signaled his determination to tackle security-policy reform soon after taking over as prime minister in 2012.

He has been trying to find a way to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense without violating the Constitution. Abe believes Japan's security environment has grown more severe, and that the country can no longer defend its people without international cooperation.

Past leaders had maintained that such acts were unconstitutional. "The Constitution doesn't allow the use of the right to collective self-defense," opined then-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1983.

Last year, Abe and his Cabinet ministers decided to reinterpret the Constitution. Abe told the people it was necessary because Japan's security environment had grown more "severe."

In May this year, Abe and his cabinet ministers submitted the bills to the Lower House to give the new policy a legal basis. The ruling and opposition parties engaged in a vigorous debate. "Leaders of the opposition argued that the bills could be used to justify expanding SDF activities without limit," argued Japanese Communist Party chairperson Kazuo Shii.

Abe tried to downplay their concerns, saying the activities of the SDF will be limited by strict new conditions. "The government believes that sending armed units to foreign territories with the intention of using force exceeds the minimum-extent-necessary test for self-defense. So that is not allowed by the Constitution," he said.

The discussion became even more heated when three experts offered their views in the Diet. All said they believe the legislation would be unconstitutional. Opposition lawmakers called the deliberations insufficient. Some said the bills are unconstitutional.

At the Lower House plenary session in July, most opposition lawmakers walked out in a show of protest. But the governing coalition has a two-thirds majority in the chamber. The bills passed the Lower House, and went to the upper chamber.

The bills have provoked a strong reaction among the public. Protesters last month carried placards with messages, such as "Defend the Constitution" and "We won't let any children be killed". Fierce confrontation continued in the Diet. But the showdown over Abe's new security policy is now approaching a conclusion.