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Will a militaristic Abe torpedo his own leadership?

The new legislation proposed by Abe allows Japan’s military force—called the Self-Defense Forces (SDFs)—to be dispatched abroad without pre-approval from parliament; it also expands the parameters for engaging in military action under the doctrine of collective self-defense.

The bills—which the Japanese cabinet insists are purely defensive in nature—were passed by the lower house of parliament last month and are now due for a vote in the upper house. No specific situations requiring overseas deployment are reportedly being discussed. In the past, Japan has enacted a special law to send noncombat troops into Iraq for limited periods to assist the U.S. with humanitarian and reconstruction operations.

Following Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies during World War II, Allied forces led by the U.S. demanded complete demilitarization and disarmament, putting in place the current pacifist constitution that denies Japan the right to declare war.

Recent large-scale protests indicate citizens believe the current bills could trigger outright war, according to local media reports – a plausible concern given Japan’s ongoing conflict with China concerning disputed territory known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China.

“The main driver of the normalization of the SDF towards a conventional military force is the desire to adapt to China’s perceived aggressive behavior,” said Alison Evans, senior analyst of IHS Country Risk, said in a July note.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue expressed those worries on Sunday at the 70th anniversary of the city’s atomic bombing, which happened a few days after Hiroshima was destroyed.

“There is widespread unease and concern that the oath which was engraved onto our hearts 70 years ago and the peaceful ideology of the Constitution of Japan are now wavering. I urge the government and the Diet to listen to these voices of unease and concern, concentrate their wisdom, and conduct careful and sincere deliberations,” he said in a speech.

Moreover, Abe’s heavy-handed approach to ensuring the passage of the bills, which has reportedly included strong-arming the media to silence criticism, has also alienated supporters.

“These [tactics] have included more aggressive complaints to the bosses of critical journalists and commentators, and more blatant retaliation against outlets that persist in faulting the administration. At the same time, Mr. Abe has tried to win over top media executives and noted journalists with private sushi lunches,” the NYT reported in an April 26 feature.

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