The nation’s pacifist Constitution remains intact more than half a century after Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi told U.S. television viewers in October 1958 that the time had come for Japan to abandon the war-renouncing Article 9.
Amending the Constitution was Kishi’s long-standing political aim. His grandson, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now views it as his to complete.
In his autography, published in 1983, Kishi said he considered the Constitution, which took effect on May 3, 1947, to represent U.S. policy for its occupation of Japan following the end of World War II.
Kishi believed that early Allied Occupation policy was aimed at snuffing out the patriotism of the Japanese people.
Abe appears to bear similar resentment toward the Constitution, although as prime minister he is unlikely to express this publicly.
At a House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution meeting in May 2000, when he was a second-term Lower House member, Abe said: “It is clear to everyone that the Constitution was drawn up under significant compulsion.
“I think this has had bad effects on the minds of Japanese people,” Abe declared. “It is crucially important for us to make a new Constitution by ourselves.”
Eager to eliminate any sense of national inferiority stemming from the Occupation and to build a truly equal relationship with the former enemy, Kishi devoted his political life to revising the 1951 Japan-U.S. security treaty.
The treaty was concluded in line with Japan’s return to the international community through the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty with the World War II Allies in the same year. It allowed the U.S. military to set up bases in Japan while obscuring the extent and limits of its defense obligations to the country.
The current security treaty was signed by Kishi in 1960. He later said he was pleased that through it Japan had won the principle of mutual defense.
But the government’s constitutional interpretation, which effectively banned the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, prevented Japan from defending the United States. This means that until now the bilateral alliance has not been equal in substance.
At the Diet committee meeting in 2000, Abe denounced the constitutional interpretation as “very shameful.” He insisted that collective self-defense was a natural right.
“It is extremely strange to think that we have the right but cannot use it,” he said.
In July 2014, the Abe Cabinet revised the constitutional interpretation to lift the country’s self-imposed ban on collective self-defense. A set of national security bills to give the reinterpretation substance is now under deliberations at the Diet.
Still, Abe seems to believe that the reinterpretation, which only allows the limited use of collective self-defense, is not enough. Looking ahead, he probably envisions a constitutional amendment to enable the country to conduct collective self-defense without restraint.
In his 1958 U.S. television interview, Kishi admitted it would take a long time to change the Constitution. Abe must now be feeling the weight of that remark.
At a 2007 press conference, shortly after his accession to the post of prime minister in September 2006, Abe declared that his Cabinet would work to realize a constitutional amendment.
Abe restated that goal when campaigning for the House of Councilors election in the summer of that year, which led to the ruling bloc’s defeat and loss of its majority in the Upper House. In September, he stepped down as prime minister, citing health reasons. His initial plans for the constitutional amendment thus collapsed.
Five years later, Abe was president of the Liberal Democratic Party. It returned to power, whereupon his first push was to revise the Constitution’s Article 96, rather than Article 9.
Article 96 sets out the procedure to enact constitutional amendments. Changing it would relax the requirements in first having the Diet consider revisions before they are put to a national referendum.
The call was rejected by the LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, which is known for its pacifist inclinations. Abe believed it would be easier to win support for an Article 96 revision than Article 9 from other parties, such as opposition force Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), now Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).
In 2013, annual media surveys conducted around the Constitution Memorial Day holiday on May 3 found that the number of people opposed to revising Article 96 outnumbered those in support of it. Abe then retracted his call to have the clause revised, saying the public’s understanding of it was “not necessarily sufficient.”
Following the second failure of his strategy to achieve a constitutional amendment, Abe decided to refrain from an outright campaign for that goal. “My passion may sometimes work adversely,” he said at a Lower House Budget Committee meeting in February.
Abe is now apparently aiming for a change that would enjoy cross-party support. He appears ready to shelve the Article 9 issue for the present, or at least assign it a lower priority.
Sources say he hopes to compile a first list of constitutional amendment proposals and put it to a national referendum while he remains in office.
Hajime Funada, head of the LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, apparently reflected the prime minister’s thoughts when he said what first needs to happen is for the nation to “get used” to making constitutional amendments.
In May, Abe overtook Kishi for the total number of days in office as prime minister, becoming the sixth-longest-serving prime minister since the war, with 1,242 days as the nation’s top leader.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Abe told reporters. “The important thing is not the number of days in office but the achievements.”