Downplaying U.S. Military Crime in Okinawa

August 6, 2016

Defenders of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa are fond of claiming that U.S. personnel covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Japan commit crimes at a lower rate than Okinawans themselves. The newspaper Stars and Stripes, for example, noting that an Okinawa Prefectural Assembly resolution stated that “SOFA-status personnel had committed 5,896 crimes since 1972”, objected that “government figures show the rest of Okinawa’s populace has a crime rate more than twice as high over the same period — 69.7 crimes per 10,000 people, compared with 27.4 by SOFA members.”

This statistic is valid, but it’s preposterous to present it as definitive. The first problem is that Okinawa police statistics cover only crimes committed off base, where military personnel spend far less of their time than do Okinawans, vastly reducing the opportunity to commit crimes there. Furthermore, such personnel are paid regularly (if not necessarily well) and are therefore unlikely to engage in criminal activity linked to poverty. That in spite of these factors service members and contractors commit as many crimes as they do is nothing to brag about.

But when you look at the figures for heinous crimes, it’s much worse. As Jon Mitchell reports: “According to Okinawa Prefectural Police, between 2006 and 2015, members of the US military, their dependents and military employees committed serious offences (murder, robbery, arson and rape) at a rate 2.3 times that of the local population. On a longer chronological scale, the rate of military-related serious crimes is 3.5 times that of the local population in the 44 years since Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control in 1972.”

Citing an overall rate of military-related crime less than half that of Okinawans, while omitting a rate of heinous military-related crime more than double that of Okinawans, is a kind of half-truth, more dangerous than an outright lie. While the statistics on heinous crimes first appeared on June 11, 2016, after the Stars and Stripes story, the paper was downplaying military crimes again on June 16, and as of August 6 has yet to correct the record.

This is #5 in a series of “Futenma Falsehoods, Henoko Hanky-panky”. See more here.

U.S. Forces Japan Misrepresents Base Presence in Okinawa

August 2, 2016

On June 23, 2016, U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) posted a “USFJ Fact of the Week” to its Facebook page, with the following claim: “It is often said that 75 percent or more of all American military facilities in Japan are located on Okinawa. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. In fact, 39% of US exclusive use facilities and 49% of total SOFA-members reside in Okinawa.”

In the first place, the oft-cited statistic is that in terms of area, Okinawa hosts 74% of bases in Japan used exclusively by the United States. In other words, Okinawa alone accounts for 74% of the area occupied by US exclusive use facilities in Japan. That’s a mouthful, so it isn’t always stated with absolute precision, but USFJ can hardly fail to be aware of what it means. After all, the number of bases is clearly inadequate as a measure of the burden they impose on a locality: one huge base has more impact than two small ones.

In playing the fool and propagating the 39% figure, “U.S. forces apparently want to downplay Okinawa’s burden so that it does not look as great as reported,” observed Sato Manabu, professor of international politics at Okinawa International University.

Moreover, USFJ omitted the crucial fact that usually accompanies the 74% number: Okinawa has just 0.6% of Japan’s total area. Without this, it’s impossible to understand the grossly disproportionate burden of bases on Okinawa.

On top of everything else, USFJ chose the very day that Okinawans remember the lives lost in the Battle of Okinawa to engage in its propaganda. Fact of the week? More like misrepresentation of the week.

This is #1 in a series of “Futenma Falsehoods, Henoko Hanky-panky”. See more here.

The “Only Solution” Mantra

April 17, 2016

Last week, Japan’s Foreign Minister Kishida told Secretary of State Kerry that building a new airbase at Henoko in Okinawa is the “only solution” to closing the Futenma base while maintaining essential security functions. Kerry implicitly agreed. This ritual is repeated virtually every time American and Japanese officials meet. Do they think that by endlessly repeating this mantra, people will believe it?

The trouble, as Peter Ennis puts it, is that “MCAS Futenma is convenient for training and Marine down time, but has no strategic function.” Ennis is no peacenik; he makes this point precisely because he sees the unwillingness to reconsider the Henoko base as a threat to core priorities of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Moreover, in an unguarded moment, former Minister of Defense Morimoto stated that “from a military perspective, the relocation does not have to be in Okinawa.”

Another crack in the facade appeared when Michael Armacost, a former ambassador to Japan, declared that “Futenma is not an essential base”, and cast doubt on the merits of transferring it to Henoko.

Anyone open to facts and logic can see that Kerry and Kishida’s claim that Henoko is the “only solution” is nonsense. The point of their dog and pony show is not to persuade, but to send the message that they will never budge. But the Okinawan people have held off this base for 20 years, and if we stand with them, even mantra-intoning officials will one day be enlightened.

All Politics is Local

February 27, 2016


I recently launched a petition, which reads as follows:

Seattle City Council: Join other U.S. cities in standing with Okinawa against military base

Okinawa is already choked with military bases, but the United States insists on building yet another, bringing crime, aircraft accidents, noise, environmental damage, and the risk of again turning the islands into a battlefield. As Okinawans fight to protect their communities, they deserve Seattle’s support.

Though Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952, the U.S. military continued to occupy Okinawa for another twenty years. As a result, Okinawa, with less than 1% of Japan’s total area, hosts three fourths of the U.S. military bases in the country.[1] Decade after decade, Okinawans have suffered the harmful consequences of these bases. But now, with a new base slated for construction, Okinawans are saying they’ve had enough, with nearly 80% opposed.[2]

In the Henoko district of Nago City, protesters are engaged in a campaign to stop construction of the new base. On land, they face riot police sent from Tokyo. On the sea – using tactics similar to those employed by Seattle’s kayaktivists in last year’s #ShellNo campaign – they confront the Japan Coast Guard, which has resorted to excessive force. Yet the protesters remain committed to nonviolence.

When national leaders refuse to budge from unjust policies, it’s at the local level that we can have the most impact. Seattle can be proud of past resolutions supporting an end to the Iraq War and opposing South African apartheid. Last year, Cambridge, Massachusetts[3] and Berkeley, California[4] passed resolutions standing with Okinawans against the new base. Now it’s our turn.



Click here to sign.

As I’ve written previously, unlike many intractable wrongs, the base can be stopped. But to the extent that leaders in Washington, DC listen to the public at all, that rarely extends to issues touching on foreign and military policy. So for now, I think we should focus on a different level of government. Perhaps I’m finally awakening to the truth of the adage “all politics is local.”

When I read that the cities of Berkeley and Cambridge had passed resolutions backing Okinawa in its resistance to the new base, I thought, why not Seattle? After all, it’s one of the most progressive cities in the country, and that extends to some members of the city council. Moreover, with two texts already available to them, they don’t even have to write a resolution from scratch. Nevertheless, they’re undoubtedly busy with other matters, and unlikely to take up this one unless prompted to do so by their constituents. That’s where this petition comes in.

In order to succeed, we’ll need many signatures – especially of Seattle residents and voters. So in addition to signing, I’d be very grateful if you would share the petition widely via email and social networks. Given that Japan appears bent on accelerated construction as soon as it can overcome legal challenges, we have no time to lose.

Once again, the petition is here.

A couple of updates:

  • On  March 4, the Japanese government and Okinawa agreed to a court proposal in which they drop most of their duelling lawsuits. The good news is that it also requires the central government to suspend base construction. The bad news is that, as Japanese government officials admit, they accepted this “settlement” in order to avoid controversy during elections this summer, and have every intention of continuing to fight Okinawa in the courts. Thus, showing solidarity with Okinawa is as important as ever.
  • To keep informed on the progress of the petition, please visit our Facebook page:

Circle of Empathy

November 15, 2015

I’m something of a Francophile. In my youth, I ignored American literature in favor of Balzac, Stendhal, and Flaubert. In cinema, I’ve long gravitated toward French (or at least French-speaking) directors. Last Friday night, a musician was on the radio saying that after his group had played a set at a jazz club in Paris called Le Sunset, they heard about the nearby terror attacks. The group decided it would be wrong to go on for another set. I was stunned, for I remember going to a club called Le Sunset in 1989 – presumably the same one. This slight connection intensified the horror for me.

But I’m uncomfortable with worldwide expressions of solidarity with one victimized country when no comparable solidarity is shown with places such as Afghanistan, Gaza, and Yemen where many more noncombatants have been killed. As it happens, my country is responsible for much of this slaughter, either directly or by providing weapons and diplomatic cover. If anything, that should increase my solidarity with the survivors, not shut it off.

The world has many problems, but one of them is that we are very, very selective in our empathy. To some, we send the message, “Your lives are precious; we stand with you.” To others, our silence sends the implicit message, “Your lives – and those of your children – are nothing to us.” If we truly wish to stop tragedies like the one in Paris on November 13, the first thing we must do is expand the circle of our empathy. If the world were horrified by all attacks on civilians, no matter where or by whom, we might not be mourning Parisians now.

In Okinawa, Discrimination Has a Number

October 14, 2015

I’m going to go through a bit of arithmetic here, but it’s in the interest of answering an important question: just how unfair a burden of American military bases is imposed on Okinawa? If you’re math-averse, you can skip over it.

Opponents of the transfer and expansion of a U.S. Marine base from Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago City in Okinawa often cite the fact that Okinawa, with just 0.6% of Japan’s total area, accounts for 73.8% of the U.S. base presence in Japan (that is, the combined area of bases used exclusively by the U.S. military in Japan). These two figures, 0.6 and 73.8, testify to the unfair burden imposed on Okinawa for what is supposedly a benefit to Japan as a whole.

Map of U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa (from

But just how unfair? The burden military bases place on a region depends both on their combined area and on the region’s size. The greater the area, the greater the burden. The larger the region, the smaller the burden. So to measure the burden, we can use the density of bases per unit area.

Now, if the American base presence were distributed evenly throughout Japan, the base density in Okinawa would be the same as the density in the rest of Japan (for which I’ll use the imperfect term “mainland”). As a measure of the density in Okinawa, we can use the ratio of 73.8 and 0.6, which is 123. How about mainland Japan? First, the percentage of bases it hosts is 100 – 73.8, or 26.2%. Second, the mainland‘s percentage of Japan’s total area is 100 – 0.6, or 99.4%. To get the density of bases in mainland Japan we take the ratio of 26.2 and 99.4, and get about 0.2636.

Now, 123 is about 467 times 0.2636. So instead of equal densities, we find that Okinawa’s is 467 times that of mainland Japan. That is how unfair the burden of the American military presence is on Okinawa: almost 500 times the burden on the rest of Japan.

The central government in Tokyo evidently considers the level of base concentration on the mainland appropriate. But it rigidly opposes any action that would significantly reduce a burden on Okinawa 467 times that level. It’s as if Japan concentrated nuclear power stations 467 times as densely in Okinawa as it did everywhere else. Can anyone deny that this is a gross injustice?

The Pentagon claims that the Henoko base is part of a realignment intended to reduce the burden on Okinawa. But “burden” is too vague; by focusing instead on relative base densities, we can advance the debate. At the end of this realignment, bases will still be concentrated in Okinawa hundreds of times more densely than they are in the rest of Japan. Calling that a reduction in burden is an insult. Much, much more is needed – beginning with the abandonment of plans for the Henoko base.

[This article has been revised to improve clarity.]

The Nation and East Asia

August 2, 2015

I am a longtime subscriber to The Nation magazine, which is celebrating its 150th year. It’s an indispensable resource, with some of the best writers around. But in the interest of making it even better, I recently submitted the following letter to the editor.

The Nation provides excellent coverage of many issues, but falls short in its coverage of Northeast Asia. In a search of your website, I found that in the past year, Japan and Korea (North and South), with a combined population 25 times that of Israel, had only half as many hits. And while China, Japan, and the Koreas combine for a population 42 times that of Iraq, they had fewer hits on

I am not suggesting that population is the only gauge of appropriate levels of coverage, but these figures are grossly disproportionate. I fear that The Nation is stuck in outmoded priorities that relegate one fifth of humanity to a journalistic backwater.

Our leaders are differently inclined, and their “Pacific Pivot” deserves much more scrutiny. I think Nation readers would like to know about Okinawa’s struggle to stop construction of a new U.S. military base, and about the right-wing government of Japan’s push, ignoring widespread opposition, to authorize closer military collaboration with its American ally. In a gift to the Pentagon, these stories have received sporadic coverage at best. While the region is ostensibly at peace, progressives may wake up one day and wish they’d been paying more attention.

The Nation’s “fighting the last war” predilections are apparent even within its coverage of East Asia. In the interest of brevity, my letter omitted the fact that more articles mentioned Vietnam in the past year than China. (All searches were performed July 22, 2015.) Now, my political awareness – and, I suspect, that of some Nation editors – was formed during the Vietnam War. Vietnam has yet to fully recover from the catastrophe we wreaked upon it, and the United States has not even begun to own up to its crimes. But does any of that justify treating Vietnam’s neighbor to the north, with 14 times the population, as less important?

Shortly after I sent my letter, The Nation ran a fine article on Prime Minister Abe’s end run around the Japanese Constitution. But as we know in the context of climate change, a single data point does not alter a statistical fact. While many of the magazine’s readers are well aware that the Prime Minister of Israel is named Netanyahu, they will have long forgotten about Abe if another year or two passes before he is mentioned again. Infrequent coverage means that every article has to go back to the beginning and spend hundreds of words reacquainting readers with the basic facts; they never develop the familiarity with the issues necessary to act upon them.

This is all quite consequential: shouldn’t we be asking presidential candidates about their policies toward these countries? The Nation is not the only progressive media outlet that tends to neglect coverage of East Asia. But it is influential, and it’s time for it to lead.

Okinawa Can Win. Let’s Help.

June 3, 2015

There’s an issue that should concern all American progressives committed to democracy, peace, and the environment. It’s a fight we can win. However, few progressives are even aware of it.

The United States and Japan are intent on building a new base for the U.S. Marines in Okinawa, and the people there don’t want it. Their reasons are varied: environmental protection, a strong aversion to militarism, the excessive burden of bases on Okinawa, and the noise, accidents, and crime that bases inflict on surrounding communities. For the details, see Jon Letman’s excellent article. And to hear it straight from Okinawans, I can’t recommend this video enough.

Sure, we’d like to stop drones from killing noncombatants, turn off the spigot of weapons to tyrants and war criminals, and bring troops home from bases around the world. But that’s a tall order. If we want to close down hundreds of bases, how about starting by preventing the construction of one?

Defying two governments, Okinawa’s task may seem impossible. Okinawans, though, have several factors in their favor. First, while Tokyo was long able to buy off local politicians by promising development funds, Okinawa now has political leadership reflecting the electorate’s determination. The cause is so mainstream that anti-base Governor Onaga is a conservative by Okinawan standards, and the business community has lent support as well. Military bases, it seems, are bad for business.

Furthermore, while some Japanese (and as the case of Kevin Maher shows, some Americans) look down on Okinawans, such attitudes are far less widespread and virulent than America’s Islamophobia. The resistance is nonviolent, making Okinawans hard to demonize (though Stars and Stripes does its despicable best). When base opponents are mistreated, people sympathize with them, and sense that when peaceful protesters are targeted so unjustly, their cause is often just.

Finally, Okinawa’s struggle has drawn support from well-known figures outside the prefecture. Anime director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, The Wind Rises) is helping to raise funds in support of anti-base activities. In North America, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Daniel Ellsberg, and Oliver Stone have made common cause with Okinawa. And while some Japanese are happy to have U.S. bases as long as they are far away in Okinawa, a plurality of opinion has turned against this particular base.

Ultimately, this is Okinawa’s fight to win. But it’s a fight on two fronts, one of them in Washington, D.C. Our government’s contempt for Okinawan self-determination is shameful, and it is our task to shame it. Organizations like Veterans for Peace are leading the way, but much more must be done.

The biggest obstacle is a virtual blackout on the part of the news media. If 35,000 people rallied against the building of a military base for Russia or Iran, it would be on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post. But when 35,000 Okinawans rallied against a U.S. base, it got hardly a mention. When the resistance is covered at all, it’s frequently portrayed as a conflict between Okinawa and Tokyo, as if the U.S. were an innocent bystander.

But how can we expect the mainstream media to cover this issue when progressive media does so sporadically at best? The latter, it seems, is just as prone to “if it bleeds, it leads” thinking as the former. We hear plenty about Baltimore and Gaza, and I’m sure we’ll hear about East Asia too if war breaks out there – when it would be too late to stop it. We need to be informed about the region now, before a war starts – a war in which U.S. bases in Okinawa would be heavily involved. That’s one reason Okinawans oppose them – they fear a repeat of the Battle of Okinawa, in which a fourth of the population perished 70 years ago. So progressive media need to step up. This means you, Democracy Now. This means you, The Nation. This means you, The Intercept. Governor Onaga is in Washington, D.C. until June 5, and may get some attention even from mainstream media. But we can’t go back to ignoring Okinawa when he goes home.

Look, I know you’re busy. You’re struggling to keep up as it is, and here I am putting more on your plate. But this is not a zero-sum game. Showing solidarity with Okinawa doesn’t detract from your solidarity with anyone else. For one thing, I believe Okinawans will reciprocate. A win here would demonstrate the vulnerability of antidemocratic and militaristic U.S. policies everywhere else. And couldn’t we use a win?


July 28, 2014

Three cheers for America’s Japan pundits! In the wake of a reinterpretation of Japan’s Constitution to permit the exercise of collective self-defense, our resident experts in think tanks and academia demonstrated independence of mind with a chorus of approval. No groupthink here! The fact that their positions aligned with that of the United States government, which has for decades pressed Japan to rip up Article 9, is completely coincidental. Nor, in the case of those with previous service in the State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council, was their scholarly objectivity the least bit compromised. Who would draw parallels with the way scholars in the Soviet Union parroted the Party line? Only a party pooper.

If the Japan wonks had one message above all, it was that this absolutely critical change was no big deal. This “historic shift,” this “landmark moment,” declare Richard Fontaine and Jeffrey W. Hornung, “is unlikely to change very much in practice, at least in the near term.” For Jennifer Lind, “The most recent change in Japanese defense policy is thus both remarkable and routine.” You see, Article 9 wasn’t eviscerated all at once. As Lind (ex-DOD) puts it, “Japan’s gradual relaxation of defense constraints should in no way suggest that the country is rearming with intent to once again commit aggression in East Asia.” Outside the scope of her study, apparently, is the effect of removing constraints expressly designed to prevent such aggression on the intentions of future administrations.

World-class scholars that they are, these thinkers provide irrefutable support for their thesis that the change isn’t so big: Michael Green and (again) Hornung note the “very restrictive” conditions that must be met in order for Japan to exercise collective self-defense: “1) The situation should pose a clear threat to the Japanese state or could fundamentally threaten the Japanese people’s constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; 2) There is no other way to repel the attack and protect Japan and its people; and 3) The use of force is limited to the minimum necessary.” After all, when a state claims such conditions hold, that means they do. President Bush warned of the imminent threat from Iraq, which is why he is now universally venerated as America’s greatest president for saving us from Saddam Hussein’s WMDs. As to the third condition, look no further than Gaza, where the number of lifeless children mounts by the day. But since Israel says it’s employing minimum necessary force, war crimes charges are entirely groundless. See how it works?

But the wonks don’t stop there. After an exhaustive search, Green and Hornung unearthed crucial evidence that there’s nothing to worry about: “Abe himself has explicitly said that the change will not lead to Japan’s involvement in foreign wars.” Well, that settles that – the prime minister said so! Fontaine (formerly of State and NSC) and Hornung use subtle reasoning to deduce that “the Constitution’s Article 9 … has not changed.” You see, its text hasn’t changed, only what the government takes those words to mean – a matter, obviously, of no consequence. We can but gasp in awe at such penetrating analysis.

Some benighted souls, however, aren’t as thrilled with the teensy-weensy reinterpretation. Fontaine and Hornung highlight criticism from other Asian nations, but focusing on criticism from China is not, repeat not, a straw man! Most wonks, though, paid at least some attention to opposition within Japan itself. Lind strides in with historical context: since the Second World War, the Japanese, she says, “have been skittish of rearmament and involvement in overseas military operations.” Webster’s defines “skittish” as “easily frightened, jumpy” – you know, like a horse. Imagine that – a little thing like millions of dead and cities in ruins, and the easily frightened Japanese still get jumpy as Abe coaxes them back into the starting gate.

Well, stop fretting, fraidy-cats: Green and Hornung are telling you that Article 9 has not been “completely and blatantly” gutted. Coming from as valiant a champion of pacifism as former Bush NSC staffer Michael Green, who can fail to be reassured?

One source of opposition goes entirely unmentioned by these experts: Japanese constitutional scholars, most of whom find even the Self-Defense Forces unconstitutional, to say nothing of relaxed conditions for their deployment. Do you find this omission odd, dear reader? Then for once in your life, think like a Japan wonk! People who worry about quaint legal niceties are obviously Marxists or something. You’re not a Commie, are you, dear reader?

James Schoff (ex-DOD) predicts that the decision “will produce a substantive (yet incremental) policy change that the Japanese and other nations will embrace over time.” (italics mine) You see, in Schoff’s groundbreaking theory of democracy, governments properly ignore public opinion while making “an historic reinterpretation of the nation’s constitution,” confident that the pesky electorate will come around later. Sheila Smith expands on this view, opining that “Japan’s prime minister needs to persuade the Japanese public that he is on the right path.” The public too has an important role to play: “The Japanese people must support this evolving role for their military,” writes Smith.

Green and Hornung’s airtight proof of the democratic legitimacy of Abe’s approach to authorizing the change deserves special recognition. “During this process,” they say, “the proceedings were reported upon daily by Japan’s media, enabling voters to be fully aware of the discussions.” Plus, Abe held a press conference! Yes, we all remember Tom Paine’s stirring exhortation that between elections, people just need to shut up and listen. As the two savants also observe, “Japan today is a deeply rooted democratic country with strong civilian control over a well-trained military and a seven-decade record of peaceful activity.” If detecting a causal link between Article 9 and that record is beyond the capacity of such august authorities, we may be certain that none exists.

In the halls of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the sound of popping champagne corks may have subsided, but never fear, we won’t lack for more sublime wisdom from these sages. They may soon be explaining why building a new U.S. base in Okinawa – and using strong-arm tactics to break up local protests – is just Abe’s little way of “reducing the burden” on that prefecture. Enlisting Japan in U.S. global strategy is an “incremental” process, so the work of an American Japan wonk is never done.

On a serious note, I don’t remember when I first read about Article 9, but it made an enormous impression on me. Here was a country that had experienced the very worst that war can offer (and yes, inflicted it on others as well). And with help from the U.S. Occupation, that country had learned from its experiences and renounced war itself. The people of Japan blamed their sufferings not primarily on the enemy, but on those who led them into tragedy. And so they placed real institutional constraints on what leaders could do in the future. Affirmations of devotion to peace are often hollow, but here was a solid and courageous commitment.

If there was any redemption from the horrors of World War II, it was Article 9, pointing to the possibility of ending reliance on military force. A world that felt those horrors keenly and was dedicated to preventing a repeat of them would have carefully nurtured that hope.

So behind the bile above is sorrow at the destruction of something beautiful. A kind of beauty beyond the comprehension of philistines with value systems that begin and end with “U.S. interests,” in advance of which they are always eager to provide wretched rationalizations.

The Quality of Democracy

June 25, 2014

In its drive to reinterpret Japan’s Constitution to allow it to exercise collective self-defense (CSD), the Abe administration’s proposals have constantly shifted. Prior to this week, Abe sought to authorize force provided that “Japan has come under military attack as well as when another nation has come under attack and that leads to the possibility that the survival of Japan is threatened and the right of the Japanese people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could be fundamentally overthrown.” Coalition partner New Komeito, however, objected to language under which an attack on any country whatsoever that led to the mere possibility of certain poorly specified results would allow Japan to invoke the right to CSD. Consequently, Abe’s lieutenants have come up with new language, replacing “another nation” with “a country with a close relationship with Japan” and requiring that the attack “clearly cast a danger” rather than merely led to a possibility of harm.

On the surface, the changes seem to narrow the criteria, and New Komeito’s vice president has welcomed them. But would they in practice constrain Japan’s leaders any more than the old criteria?

In the first place, “a country with a close relationship with Japan” is still rather vague. A primary impetus for CSD is to allow Japan to take on missions for or in concert with American forces. Under the US-Japan Security Treaty, the two countries have an unquestionably close relationship. But in recent months, Japan has sought closer ties with Vietnam and the Philippines as they face China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea. So an attack on them, assuming the other criteria were met, would presumably permit Japan to use force. Outside of, say, Côte d’Ivoire and Finland, what countries would be excluded?

More to the point, who would make the determination of whether a given country had “a close relationship with Japan” and whether an attack on it “clearly cast a danger” to Japan? The “decider” would be the government itself. Even if this were subject to a vote in the Diet, how many legislators, having been alerted to a purported national emergency, would question the clearness of the danger and refuse to authorize military action?

We have seen elsewhere the precise value of commitments made by a government with a history of language abuse to do X only if it can certify Y. Under U.S. law, no military aid may be provided to “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” To an objective observer, this would clearly apply to the current government of Egypt, but the Obama administration somehow found Morsi’s overthrow by military officers as something other than a coup. In addition, the law provides an out: “assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office.” It seems unlikely that this was intended to apply to a coup leader like el-Sisi engineering his own victory in an election that was democratic in name only, but as the President himself makes the determination, shipments of Apache helicopter gunships are set to resume. The quality of democracy is in doubt, and not just in Egypt.

The fundamental problem with Abe’s drive for CSD is that the state is attempting to use extra-constitutional means to remove constitutional limits on itself. When that same government can avoid restrictions merely by certifying that certain conditions hold, it is in practice free to do as it wishes. The fiction of limits serves only to provide New Komeito’s leadership with a way to package a sell-out as a victory eked out after principled resistance.