Earlier this week, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported on an emerging debate within Japanese lawmakers in the ruling coalition. The debate concerns the changing role of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF), specifically over the question of how much leeway should be given to Japanese troops in using their weapons during international cooperation activities. The debate is in part made necessary by the Abe government’s decision last year to pass a resolution reinterpreting the Japanese constitution’s post-war ban on collective self-defense. According to the Yomiuri’s report, legislators in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — the prime minister’s party — are eager to relax restrictions on the use of weaponry by the SDF while their junior coalition partners in the New Komeito party urge restraint, citing constitutional concerns.
The minutiae of the debate revolve around the specific conditions under which SDF troops would be able to discharge their weapons. According to the Yomiuri‘s reports, there are two primary categories. Under the first, SDF troops would only discharge their weapons in “self-preservation” scenarios, otherwise minimizing the use of weaponry. Under this set of rules, SDF troops would be permitted to use their weapons to save their own lives or the lives of civilians under their protection.
The second category — “mission execution” — would allow SDF troops to discharge their weapons more liberally in eliminating resistance to any potential mission, or suppressing targets during an operation. Until today, Japanese SDF troops have used their weapons in line with the first category. The LDP is keen to expand this to include “mission execution” scenarios. New Komeito continues to insist that short of a formal constitutional amendment, the SDF cannot radically alter its current “self-preservation” stance on the use of weapons. ”We are far from a conclusion,” one Komeito member told the press.