Photo/IllutrationProtesters gather in front of the Diet in September 2017 to oppose national security legislation that was passed two years earlier. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In the Diet and through the media, the Abe administration repeatedly warned of situations threatening Japan’s survival in pursuing national security legislation that allowed the exercise of the right to collective self-defense.

But in court, the government recently described one such situation as an “abstract supposition” that could not be envisaged under current international circumstances.

Opposition parties are now echoing a court’s criticism of the Abe administration for its contradictory stance on the security legislation, which shifted Japan away from its pacifist ideals and led to widespread protests across the nation.

“(The Abe administration) rushed (passage) of the national security legislation by saying a survival-threatening situation could arise at any time,” Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said at a Feb. 14 Lower House Budget Committee session. “On the other hand, the central government is arguing (in court) that there is no specific danger. Isn’t that a two-faced stance?”

In Diet deliberations in August 2015 on the security bills, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touched upon the situations threatening Japan’s survival that would warrant having the Self-Defense Forces exercise the right to collective self-defense.

“There is the clear danger of suffering irreversible and major damage through a first strike by a ballistic missile,” Abe said. “Such a situation could represent a survival-threatening situation.”

Specifically, the government cited an attack against U.S. military personnel or ships near the Korean Peninsula as they worked to protect Japan and its people. Another example of such a situation was the placing of mines in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transport route for petroleum heading to Japan.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera went further, saying in the Diet in August 2017 that a ballistic missile attack by North Korea on Guam, a U.S. territory that is about 2,500 kilometers away from Japan, could also constitute a survival-threatening situation. He said such an attack would lead to losing the deterrence and attack capabilities of the U.S. military that are important for Japan’s national security.

The government has not made these arguments nor cited these examples as a defendant in a lawsuit submitted to a district court in March 2016 by an active Ground SDF member.

The member wanted to confirm there was no obligation to obey an order for defense deployment under a survival-threatening situation defined in the national security laws.

Regarding an existence-threatening situation arising from an armed conflict between the United States and North Korea, lawyers for the central government argued that such a situation was “an abstract supposition” and said “currently no survival-threatening situation has arisen, and, reflecting on the international situation, it is not now possible to specifically envisage such a situation arising in the future.”

The district court ruled against the SDF member. However, a high court in late January overturned the district court ruling and ordered a retrial.

The high court’s ruling said the central government’s argument could not be accepted based on what it had said in the process leading to passage of the national security legislation.

At a Feb. 20 news conference, Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the opposition Kibo no To (Hope), also described the Abe administration as two-faced.

“It doesn’t seem to me to be the same government,” he said.

Government sources said court strategy was a major reason for the contradictory stance by the government on survival-threatening situations.

“The objective of the central government’s argument in the court case was to have the lawsuit thrown out quickly by the court,” one source said.

Government lawyers argued that the plaintiff’s case was groundless because it was based on a supposition. They also said it was difficult to assume when a survival-threatening situation might arise and if a defense deployment order would be issued under such circumstances.

However, legal experts also took the government to task for its differing arguments.

Sota Kimura, a professor of constitutional law at Tokyo Metropolitan University, said he understood why the government made the argument in terms of its legal strategy.

But Kimura also said he felt a strong disconnect because the central government made no attempt to compare past situations during the court proceedings and only argued in the abstract that a survival-threatening situation would not occur.