Interview withHiroshi Imazu, Chairman, Policy Research Council's Research Commission on Security, LDP of JapanPaul Kallender-Umezu, Defense News
21 April 2015
TOKYO – As chairman of the Policy Research Council's Research Commission on Security of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), lawmaker HiroshiImazu has a lead role in formulating Japan's security policy along with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, and other top Japanese defense movers and shakers.
Changes and challenges are coming thick and fast for Imazu and Japan during the second Abe Cabinet, which under the banner of a new security policy labeled "proactive pacifism" has seen Japan issue a new national security strategy, reform and bolster its National Security Council to speed up decision-making, and, historically, in July 2014, allow Japan limited rights of collective self-defense.
This month is a busy time for U.S.-Japan security relations, with both sides looking to conclude a 2+2 Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee and Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation revision talks, ongoing since October, before Abe's April 28 White House visit and April 29 speech to a joint session of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
By the June 24 close of the current Japanese Diet session, Imazu is leading the charge to ram through some 10 new laws to enable collective self-defense rights. And Abe hopes to amend Japan's constitution's Article 9, which forbids both the use of force to settle international disputes and the maintenance of regular armed forces, to allow Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to engage in police actions overseas, such as freeing hostages.
Q. Abe in February said that on top of legislation to allow for collective self-defense, he has also drafted a bill to amend the constitution. Why is this also needed?
A. Both the LDP and [our political alliance partner] New Komeito are very proud of Article 9 and because of that, just fielding a very limited defense force and relying on the U.S., we were able to build Japan as a major economic power. Recently two Japanese hostages were kidnapped and brutally murdered by [Islamic State] extremists. Under Article 9, we could do nothing to rescue them. On top of collective self-defense rights, we also need to think about how to deal with terrorism. We have to take more of our own responsibility for securing international peace and extending humanitarian support, and support for our allies. On these issues, the LDP and Komeito share the same ground.
Q. What is the overall need for the right of collective self-defense?
A. Our security issues have become much more complex and serious over the last 15 years. Now North Korea is developing a potential nuclear strike capability. China's defense budget is at least four times that of Japan, with much more spending hidden, and has been rising 10 percent or more for two decades. The [People's Liberation Army Navy] and the Chinese Coast Guard are pressuring territories all around the region as well as the Senkaku Islands. Recently paramilitary Chinese forces have been stealing valuable coral and wreaking environmental damage around the Ogasawara Islands on our very doorstep. According to our Constitution, we have a right to live peacefully, but the regional and international situation make this increasingly difficult. In fact Japan cannot defend itself just by itself but must do it in a more equal partnership with key allies, primarily the U.S.
We are now proactively extending cooperation with key allies. For example, the 5th Japan-Australia 2+2 last June; this March's Japan-Indonesia Joint Statement of a strategic partnership between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Abe; and India, including this April's visit by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. With the right of collective self-defense, these partnerships carry more meaning.
Q. What are the key legal changes required to allow the exercise of collective self-defense?
A. Under Article 9 we cannot do anything more than just defend or protect our own troops with the minimum force necessary. We cannot protect Japanese nationals or non-Japanese working with us in foreign countries. The LDP and Komeito agree we need the ability to protect our citizens and allies abroad. Also, right now, every time we are active abroad – for example, providing humanitarian support, or infrastructure building, or refueling – each time, we have to make a special new law. What are we going to do in an emergency? We need to change the process so the SDF can be dispatched for a specific purpose based on the agreement of the Diet, not each time having to go through making new law. Again for example, under present legal constraints the Maritime SDF can refuel the ships of allies, but we can't conduct boarding and inspection of pirates. We need to change that.
More broadly, 14 years ago when we last discussed the guidelines, we only thought about cooperating with the U.S. But now we want to extend this to Australia and other countries. We will conduct joint exercises with these countries and institute reciprocal defense arrangements. This is a major new difference and requires new law. This ability to cooperate with our key allies in mutual partnerships to defend each other, if necessary, and to so further enhance our deterrence and the maintenance of peace regionally and globally is not only part of the need for collective self-defense, but an essential part of Prime Minister Abe's "proactive pacifism."
Q. What are the major remaining disagreements between the LDP and the more pacifist New Komeito?
A. Article 51 of the UN Charter makes it clear we have a right to collective self-defense. However, Komeito says that this right should only be exercised on the condition that action is based on a UN resolution. But the LDP realizes that both Russia and China have the right of veto in the UN Security
Council. Now this is the biggest difference between the Komeito and the LDP. We are resolving this issue.
Q. What are the remaining gaps between the U.S. and Japan as you move toward the 2+2 and revised security guidelines? Have you overcome worries about the U.S. interpretation of Article 5, or fears of entanglement?
A. There are almost no gaps. Now Japan and the U.S. are almost of the same opinion for every major issue. My message is that the present guidelines assigned what the U.S. can do, and what Japan can and cannot do. The new guidelines talk about what we can do together as partners.
Q. How close is Japan to a capable amphibious capability to retake a Nansei Shoto Island, for example?
A. The SDF is just starting its amphibious capability and it will take some time to build it up to a force that looks like the U.S. Marines. It's not comparable at the moment. We are introducing the AAV-7s but these are already yesterday's technology. The AAV-7s are just for training purposes. If we are serious about the ability to defend our southern islands, we will need a lot of training and joint exercises with the Marines.
Q. Some worry about moves to lessen so-called civilian control of the SDF.
A. This is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of civilian control. Civilian control means the political control of a civilian, democratically elected government, the defense minister and the prime minister. Right now, any decision with the SDF has to be signed off through a series of bureaucratic steps often involving decisions being taken by non-expert bureaucrats. The defense minister will now get information, guidance and policy proposals equally from uniformed members of the SDF as well as non-uniformed members, who will have equal access.
Q. The MSDF recently commissioned the Izumo, Japan's largest post-war vessel. Some see the beginnings of a carrier capability.
A. Anti-submarine warfare [ASW] capability is one of the lynchpins of our whole defense capability and we must always reinforce and strengthen it in a stepwise manner. The Izumo-class ships will allow us to field more and the better ASW helicopters we will need to counter what is developing into a major new threat – Chinese submarines carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Both the Hyuga and now the Izumo class are highly capable helicopter destroyers that are essential to counter the Chinese A2/AD strategy, but they also can carry a lot of troops, and the Izumo class has much more humanitarian mission capability.
Q. The revised guidelines talk much more about outer space and cyber¬security cooperation. What is Japan's contribution going to be?
A. How many cyber warriors or paramilitary cyber forces does China have? Maybe 40,000 at least. How many does North Korea have? At least 3,000. How many do we have? Maybe in the SDF under 100. We need much, much more training in the U.S.
Regarding space as the fourth domain, our contribution relies on three main pillars at the moment. The first is improving space situational awareness; the second is our seven-satellite Quasi-Zenith Satellite [regional navigation system, which will be complete by 2023], which will be interoperable with U.S. GPS. The third is maritime domain awareness, but that will require a lot of discussions both internally and with the U.S. Also now we are considering shared early warning.
It is a question of budgets. We are now, however, really starting to move to a real cooperation and contribution stage.