The Legal Issues of Firing on North Korea’s “Rocket”

(Initially published in JapanInc.com, April 3, 2009)

As tensions mount and there is increasing talk of shooting down the “debris” from a pending North Korean rocket launch, there has been little discussion of what would happen if Japan shot down the rocket instead. While there is great public support for action, there should be some pause to consider the constitutional and legal issues of Japan’s military deployment in these circumstances.

North Korea continues to prepare for the launch of a an experimental satellite delivery system, widely suspected of being a Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missile, scheduled for some time between April 4-8. While North Korea touts the launch as an attempt to put a satellite in orbit, many view it as a missile test in violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution. North Korea has provided notice of the flight path, which will take the missile over Japan and into the middle of the Pacific.

It was announced on March 28, that Japan’s Minister of Defense had issued orders to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to deploy Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) assets (the land-based Patriot Missile batteries or PAC-3, and the maritime Aegis Cruiser based SM-3 systems) to shoot down “any part of a North Korean rocket that might fall toward Japanese territory” (link). The order, authorized by the prime minister, is said to be based on Article 82 of the SDF Law.

The provision provides the authority to order the SDF to take measures to destroy missiles or other falling objects (other than aircraft), which are suspected to be heading for Japanese territory and which could cause serious harm to persons or property (link). Others have written about the considerable technical difficulty that the SDF might encounter in trying to intercept actual debris from the first stage of the rocket, which is supposed to separate and fall to earth prior to the rocket passing over Japanese territory (link). … Read more…

Reinterpreting the Constitution of Japan

(Initially published in the Japan Times, October 5, 2008)

The report of the “Panel on the Reconstruction of the National Security Legal Foundation,” commonly known as the Yanai Report, argues that a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution is necessary to permit Japan to participate in collective self-defense and collective security operations. Both activities are currently understood to be prohibited by Article 9, Section 1. The report reveals, however, a fundamental flaw that entirely undermines the legitimacy of the panel’s analysis.

The panel was created in April 2007 by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to consider the need for a “reinterpretation” of the Constitution. The panel was composed of 13 prominent academics, former diplomats and government bureaucrats who were predominantly experts in international relations, politics and national security. It included only one constitutional scholar. The panel was criticized for being dominated by policy hawks who were on record as favoring constitutional revision. The chair, Yanai Shunji, a former ambassador to the U.S. and now a professor of Chuo University, submitted the panel’s report to the Cabinet in June. … Read more…

Permanent SDF Deployment Law and Democracy

(Initially published in the Japan Times, May 21, 2008)

The Japanese government wants permanent legal authority to send military forces overseas. Letting it have it would be a mistake for many reasons, but one seldom raised is the impact the move would have on the nature of Japan’s democracy. A law conferring permanent authority to deploy troops would eliminate important institutional checks and balances on the government’s use of the military, causing a further weakening of the separation of powers in Japan.

It would also run counter to the recent trend in other democracies to increase accountability in the process of deciding to use armed force.

As it stands now, the government (meaning the executive branch, the Cabinet) has to have specific legislation passed by the Diet, such as the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (the ATSML), to obtain the required legal authority to deploy troops outside of Japan. A new law is required each and every time the government wants to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), whether for the purpose of U.N. peacekeeping or to provide humanitarian support for collective security operations such as those in Afghanistan. … Read more…

Rule of Law Under Fire in Japan

(Initially published in the Japan Times, May 3, 2008)

The government’s reactions to the Nagoya High Court’s April 17 decision that Japanese operations in Iraq are unconstitutional, raise profoundly disturbing questions about the rule of law and the democratic separation of powers in Japan.

Representatives of the government, and of the military, have made public statements contradicting the findings of the court, rejecting its conclusions, and dismissing the relevance and significance of its constitutional interpretation. The prime minister has stated that the judgment will have absolutely no impact on the government’s continued use of the military in Iraq.

This response by the executive branch of government to a judicial decision in a constitutional democracy is difficult to comprehend. It raises questions about the extent to which the rule of law is respected. It provokes concerns about the continued normative power of the Constitution. It creates serious doubts about the proper distribution of power among the three branches of government within the democratic structure of the state. … Read more…