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.
I only recently submbled upon this video of a segment of the debate in the Japanese Diet in January, in which Fujita Yukihisa, a member of the official opposition, interrogated the government on the validity of American claims that Al Qaeda was the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
To put this in context, there was intense debate in the Japanese Diet in January, 2008, over the renewal of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (ATSML), which was the authority for the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to provide logistical and humanitarian support for ISAF operations in Afghanistan. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was opposed to a renewal of the law, in part because there was evidence that the SDF had provided support to U.S. forces involved in operations in Iraq. Ozawa Ichiro, leader of the DPJ, has also taken the position that operations in Afghanistan constitute collective self-defence operations not authorized by the U.N., and thus Japanese participation or support of such operations are a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution (Ozawa’s legal interpretation in this regard is flawed on a number of levels. My view on this can be found here).
It was in the context of those debates that Fujita mounted a focused interrogation on the legitimacy of the government’s characterization of 9/11. The English sub-titled video can be accessed below:
There are 8 episodes of this debate, and the other 7 can be found at here. While the questioning begins with some reasonable lines regarding the distinction between treating 9/11 as a criminal act or an act of war, and the sources of the government’s information regarding the Japanese fatalities in the attacks, by the third episode in the recordings here, Fujita begins presenting “evidence” from conspiracy theory sources to suggest that the damage to the Pentagon could not have been caused by a commercial airliner. It develops into a full-blown questioning of whether Al Qaeda was in fact the perpetrators of the attacks.
The DPJ had a range of very legitimate grounds upon which to object to the extension of the ATSML. It is hard to understand such recourse to conspiracy theories, which can only have undermined the credibility of their entire position on the law. The fundamental issue at stake was the constitutionality of Japan’s participation in collective self-defence and collective secuity operations in general, and the operations in Afghanistan in particular. Fringe theories about the causes of 9/11 are entirely beside the point and counter-productive.