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Proponent of rewriting Article 9 still wants limits

by Reiji Yoshida

The Constitution marks its 60th anniversary on May 2. This is the first in a series of interviews with politicians and experts on whether or how the charter should be changed.

Article 9, the war-renouncing component of the Constitution, should be revised to widen — but also set clear limits on — the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ activities, according to a key player in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

House of Representatives member Hajime Funada, former chairman of the LDP’s research panel on constitutional issues, is an advocate of revising Article 9.

But he’s a moderate, at least when compared with many other proponents of constitutional revision within the party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has vowed to rewrite the Constitution during his term.

This was exemplified when, in October, the 53-year-old Funada was appointed chairman of an upgraded constitutional research council of the LDP.

But LDP Policy Affairs Research Council Chairman Shoichi Nakagawa — a noted hawk — abruptly declared that the appointment had been canceled, saying a more powerful lawmaker — someone who has served as a prime minister — should take the post. Since then the position has been officially left vacant, according to LDP officials.

Despite the apparent suspension of his position on the LDP panel, Funada has been the key negotiator with opposition parties in a Lower House special committee on constitutional issues.

Funada argues that revising Article 9 is needed to allow Japan to exercise its inherent “right of collective defense” as defined by the United Nations Charter — an idea once considered politically taboo.

“(Article 9) no longer fits the current (security) situation. Can Japan defend itself only with the right of individual self-defense? I don’t think it can,” Funada said.

The U.N. Charter in general outlaws war but allows some exceptions. Article 51 allows member states to exercise the right of “collective self-defense,” in other words collective defense, commonly defined as the right of a state to use force to stop an attack on another country with which it has close relations, even when the state itself is not under direct attack.

The government interprets Article 9, which says the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” as preventing this country from exercising the right to defend an ally under enemy attack.

The self-imposed ban has prevented the SDF from directly supporting U.S. combat operations.

In recent years, however, the government has pushed for more operational integration of the SDF with the U.S. forces in Japan, deepening cooperation in such areas as ballistic missile defense and strengthening Japan’s logistic support for U.S. global military operations.

But Funada also argued that the right of collective defense should be exercised only in emergencies in areas surrounding Japan, and that revising the Constitution should explicitly detail such limitations to avoid any future government from stretching its interpretation.

“I am worried because the Japanese people, particularly LDP members, tend to go (to the extreme) in one direction once they start moving. We need to have some brakes,” Funada said.

He admitted his opinion is “a minority” in the LDP.

“Many other LDP members prefer Japan to be ‘a normal country’ ” without any restrictions on the right of collective defense, Funada said.

The lawmaker, elected from a district in Tochigi Prefecture, also believes the Japanese people have not fully searched their souls over the nation’s wrongdoings during the war, such as forcing “comfort women” to provide sex to soldiers — another opinion he acknowledges is in a minority within the LDP.