Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday indicated his resolve to realize amendments to the pacifist Constitution to ensure the legitimacy of the Self-Defense Forces ahead of running in his party's leadership race later this month.
In a speech to some 180 senior SDF officers, Abe said, "Arranging an environment where all SDF personnel can fulfill their duties with strong pride is the responsibility of politicians living in the present. I am determined to fully carry out my duty."
However, he stopped short of directly mentioning the first-ever revisions to the supreme law, which took effect in 1947, in his speech to the SDF's top brass at the Defense Ministry.
The prime minister has called for adding an explicit reference to the SDF in the war-renouncing Article 9, so that there is no room to view them as "unconstitutional."
Ahead of a debate on the SDF's constitutionality, Abe said he, as the top SDF commander and a lawmaker, is "ashamed of thoughtless criticism" leveled at the forces' personnel.
Last month, Abe, who is widely projected to win the Sept 20 Liberal Democratic Party leadership election, said his party should submit constitutional revision proposals to an extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the fall.
In the speech, Abe also stressed the significance of reviewing the country's defense buildup guidelines, which set defense capability targets that Japan should achieve over the next decade.
The Abe government aims to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines, which were last approved in December 2013, and the Mid-Term Defense Program, which specifies a five-year defense spending and procurement plan, by the end of this year.
Abe said overhauling the guidelines will be "crucially important as it will decide the future of Japan's security" and underlined the necessity to boost Japan's defense capability in new spheres such as cyberspace, outer space and electronic warfare.
The prime minister said the security situation surrounding Japan has grown severe at a much faster pace than five years ago, when Japan set the current guidelines.
"We have to break away from the norm of completing new defense capabilities in the space of five to 10 years. Common sense so far no longer has effect," he said.
In its annual white paper released last week, the Defense Ministry said Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs remain a serious threat to Tokyo despite the recent easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula following a historic U.S.-North Korean summit in June.
For the next fiscal year from April, the ministry has requested a record budget of 5.3 trillion yen ($47.7 billion), including costs to introduce a pair of U.S.-developed land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense batteries to counter North Korea's missile threat.