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Modify Constitution for modern world, scholar urges

by Akemi Nakamura

Born in 1949, baby boomer Setsu Kobayashi thanks the postwar Constitution for the freedom, peace and democracy Japan has enjoyed since its debut.

But the constitutional professor at Tokyo’s Keio University said Japan should now modify its fundamental principles, which took effect May 3, 1947, to adapt to current social realities that were not envisaged 60 years ago when the charter was drawn up.

Kobayashi said the Constitution should now make protecting the environment and people’s privacy mandatory, and guarantee public access to government information.

“Currently, the government discloses information that is beneficial to bureaucrats and hides what is not. The public’s right to know government information needs to be written in the Constitution” so people can keep close tabs on authorities, he said.

Kobayashi also argued that the Constitution’s Article 9, which bars the nation from maintaining a military and renounces war to settle international disputes, should be changed to officially recognize the Self-Defense Forces as a defensive entity to boost their morale and to better respond to national emergencies.

However, he said Article 9 should also stipulate that the military can serve in overseas missions when a third international party like the United Nations requests Japan to do so and the Diet approves it.

“Stating these conditions in the Constitution is necessary” to prevent the government from stretching the meaning of Article 9, Kobayashi said, adding that its current wording is ambiguous.

He criticized the past troop dispatch to Iraq, saying Iraq is a war zone and sending forces was thus unconstitutional.

The government sent Ground Self-Defense Force troops there after enacting a law in 2004 to allow the SDF to carry out humanitarian and reconstruction work in a part of Iraq deemed a noncombat zone. The troops suffered no casualties and were later withdrawn. Air Self-Defense Force elements based in Kuwait are still providing airlifts for the U.S.-led forces and U.N. in Iraq.

Proponents of amending the Constitution say Japan should create its own charter, not the one imposed by the Allied Occupation. But Kobayashi disagrees.

Americans in the Occupation drafted the Constitution in 1946 because then Prime Minister Kijuro Shidehara’s government failed to produce a version that satisfied U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who headed the Occupation.

The Japanese-drawn draft continued the Emperor’s sovereignty and differed little from the 1889 Meiji Constitution, which eventually allowed elected political leaders and bureaucrats to drive the nation into the wartime militarism in his name, Kobayashi said.

“Japanese political leaders promised (under the 1945 Potsdam Declaration) to change the nation, but failed to come up with a (new Constitution) draft to realize it,” Kobayashi said.

Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration, whose terms included the nation’s unconditional surrender, the ouster of militarist leaders from public service and establishment of a true democracy for the people.

Even if the Constitution was imposed, “Japan found its way (to freedom, peace and democracy) after paying the valuable cost of defeat in war. As a result, Japan has become a decent nation. So (the Constitution) has been right.”

In the 1950s, calls to amend the Constitution grew among conservative politicians as Japan regained its independence with the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and its economy began growing.

At the time, politicians and bureaucrats who were elites in the past militarist regime regained central positions in the government, and conservative politicians formed the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955 by merging two parties with the goal of creating a new charter.

“What they wanted was a new Constitution that restored the principles of the Meiji Constitution,” Kobayashi said.

However, with the Japan Socialist Party, a pro-Constitution group, wielding certain influence in politics, amending the supreme code based on the rightist idea was not supported by the public, he said.

The current debate has grown since the 1990s, due partly to the Communist and Socialist parties’ waning influence after the end of the Cold War, Kobayashi said.

The intensifying discussions for revision have also been fueled by international crises, including the 1990 Persian Gulf War, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006, he said, adding that revelations in the 1990s that Pyongyang’s agents had abducted several Japanese in the 1970s and ’80s only added to the debate.

“These events made the Japanese realize that Japan can be attacked, even if we renounced war and didn’t have a military,” Kobayashi said.

The LDP sped up the move to amend the Constitution by unveiling its version of a new charter in 2005. And during the current Diet session, the ruling bloc submitted a bill to create a national referendum law, a necessary step for changing the charter.

Kobayashi advocates amending the Constitution but argued the LDP draft has both a problematic preamble in that it requires Japanese nationals to love the nation and Article 9, which recognizes the SDF for the military that it is but does not specifically state under what conditions the forces may be sent abroad.

He thinks it will be difficult for the LDP draft to get the support of two-thirds of both Diet chambers — a requirement stipulated by the Constitution to revise the charter — because the opposition camp disagrees with the ruling bloc proposal.

“I’m optimistic that the Constitution will not be changed for the worse,” he said.

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