The government's flawed argument in a lawsuit over controversial national security legislation serves only to undercut its rationale for pushing ahead with the process.

While the Tokyo District Court rejected the suit in 2017, the high court on Jan. 31 sent it back on grounds the suit has merit.

In a nutshell, the suit raised important issues that strike at the core of debate on national security and defense. The public is owed an honest and detailed explanation from the government.

The lawsuit was filed by an active member of the Ground Self-Defense Force after the Diet passed the legislation in 2015.

The plaintiff, arguing that the Constitution prohibits Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense, sought confirmation from the court that he would not be obliged to obey any mobilization order for collective self-defense operations.

Under the national security legislation, such an order may be issued if Japan faced what is known as “sonritsu kiki jitai,” or a security crisis that threatens the nation's survival due to an attack against a country that has close relations with Japan.

The Tokyo District Court dismissed the suit without dwelling on its merit, saying there was no specific possibility of such an order being issued.

But the Tokyo High Court struck down that ruling on grounds the plaintiff could face severe disciplinary action or criminal action for disobeying such an order. In acknowledging the merit of the suit, it remanded the case back to the district court.

The government’s argument in countering the suit is appalling. It has consistently maintained it is unable to envisage a scenario in which Japan faces a crisis of such magnitude as defined by the law.

During campaigning for the Lower House election last October, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe referred to tensions over North Korea as a “national crisis.”

But the government in November offered unconvincing arguments before the court.

The government said it could not come up with any feasible situation in the current international climate that would cause Japan to engage in collective self-defense. It also said military conflict with North Korea was nothing but an “abstract and hypothetical assumption.”

If it believes what it told the court, why did the government make it possible for Japan to engage in collective self-defense? It did this by changing a long-established Cabinet interpretation of the Constitution and railroading the contentious legislation through the Diet.

By ignoring broad public opposition, the Abe Cabinet rushed to enact the legislation, contending it was essential for keeping the peace and ensuring the people's safety.

Despite all the claims, the government, simply to win the lawsuit, maintained that actual cases that threaten Japan's survival and justify collective self-defense cannot be envisaged.

The administration has hit a new low in political opportunism.

The high court quite rightly spurned the government’s argument, calling it unacceptable in light of the fact the security legislation has been enacted.

During the Diet debate on the legislation, the Abe Cabinet failed to offer convincing criteria for recognizing a crisis of survival that allows the nation to engage in collective self-defense.

Abe initially cited minesweeping operations in the Strait of Hormuz as a symbolic example of collective self-defense involving Japan.

In the later stages of Diet deliberations, however, Abe backpedaled on this remark, saying the government didn’t specifically assume that the SDF would actually engage in such operations.

Last summer, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera made remarks that could expand the scope of debate on this issue. He told the Diet that a missile attack on Guam by North Korea could be recognized a crisis of survival that allows the nation to engage in collective self-defense.

Onodera’s remark is clearly at odds with what the government has said in the suit.

The mutually contradicting comments on the issue that have been made by the administration underscore the dangerous reality that it is up to the government’s discretion to decide whether a certain situation qualifies as a crisis of survival for Japan.

The high court decision should prompt the Diet to have fresh debate on this essential problem with the security legislation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 3