The National Society to Create a Constitution for a Beautiful Japan met at the Budokan on Nov. 10 to listen to speakers advocate for a new national charter. One was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who addressed the rally via a prerecorded video.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, the society, many of whose members also belong to the conservative Japan Conference (Nippon Kaigi), are afraid that Abe will not fulfill his promise to overhaul the Constitution. He assured them that things are going according to plan, though another speaker mentioned that the “fierce resistance” to the security bills recently enacted to allow the Self-Defense Forces to participate in collective defense overseas meant that “it would be impossible to amend the Constitution now.”
The bone of contention with regard to the security bills was their constitutionality, specifically whether or not they violated Article 9, which bans Japan from taking up arms. Though the Japan Conference wants to change the entire Constitution, Article 9 has become the focus.
However, those opposed to changing Article 9, the so-called goken-ha (constitutional faction), are not a united front, something that the Japan Conference presumably finds heartening. In her Nov. 11 Tokyo Shimbun column, Minako Saito referred to a report that appeared the day before in the Asahi about a “third viewpoint in the Constitution debate,” and wondered if the forces who want to change the charter so that Japan can have a conventional military — the kaiken-ha (revisionist faction) — will “take advantage” of disagreements within the goken-ha in order to destroy it.
This third viewpoint takes issue with the second paragraph of Article 9, which states that no “war potential” will be maintained and the “right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” According to this viewpoint, the very existence of the SDF violates the Constitution, something everyone, including the goken-ha, knows but conveniently ignores. The third viewpoint holds that the Constitution should be amended to acknowledge this reality but limit the “war potential” to defense of the Japanese homeland.
The popular image of the goken-ha is that of a group of prominent figures, such as Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe and writer Keiko Ochiai, who refuse to countenance changes that might dilute Japan’s pacifist stance, even if the purity of that stance is mostly in the imagination. This image has been promulgated by Japan’s two “liberal” newspapers — the Tokyo Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun — which until recently avoided talking about divisions within the goken-ha. Last July, the Asahi surveyed 100 constitutional scholars about the security bills and reported that an overwhelming number thought they were unconstitutional. However, the paper initially neglected to report that it also asked these scholars about the existence of the SDF, which they also overwhelmingly said is unconstitutional. Asahi avoided the second finding because it feared it would open a can of worms that might expose rifts within the goken-ha.
Tokyo Shimbun broke this embargo first on Oct. 14, when it ran a feature about pro-Article 9 groups who many had hoped would win the Nobel Peace Prize. The article pointed out that there are “also voices demanding a revision of Article 9” within the goken-ha. It was as if a gauntlet had been thrown down.
One person who picked it up is journalist Hajime Imai. He told the paper that the traditional goken-ha understands that the SDF is unconstitional but accepts it as somehow necessary as long as its function is self-defense. In order to pass the security bills, Imai argues, “Abe exploited this self-deception.” He wants to change the Constitution to clarify the role of the SDF, advocating a “new Article 9” that would reassert Japan’s “renunciation of aggression” but permit belligerence as a “function of unilateral self-defense.” This stance would align with the wishes of the Japanese public, “who don’t want to be caught up in America’s wars.” Moreover, the new Article 9 would “accept foreign bases” but only if approved by both the Diet and the residents of municipalities where those bases are proposed. Another scholar, Kenji Isezaki, goes further, advocating that Japan’s right to self-defense be tied to international law and the United Nations charter.
Perhaps the most contentious third viewpoint is that of professor Tatsuo Inoue of the University of Tokyo, who says that Japan’s military stance must be discussed outside the purview of the Constitution, which should only mention the existence of armed forces and that they be controlled by elected civilian representatives. Matters regarding roles and deployment should be left to the legislature. Inoue has no use for “fundamentalists,” the members of goken-ha who advocate for maintaining Article 9 as it is. As long as they ignore reality by passively disregarding the unconstitutionality of the SDF and the Japan-U.S. security alliance, Inoue says they are effectively no better than the kaiken-ha.
These men, along with Keio University professor Setsu Kobayashi — a supporter of the kaiken-ha who nevertheless opposes the security bills — Ochiai and other members of the goken-ha held a meeting last month in Tokyo. Ochiai later said it’s too soon to think about “a new 9.” They should work to repeal the security bills first.
Saito, who seems to be a fundamentalist, thinks all this academic huffing and puffing is beside the point. “If the prime minister can interpret the current Constitution as allowing him to dispatch troops to the other side of the world,” she writes, “what makes anyone think he wouldn’t do the same even if the Constitution were changed?”
In other words, the political establishment doesn’t follow the Constitution unless it suits their needs, so why should we assume they’ll start doing so after it’s revised the way Imai and others want it to be? The Japan Conference wants a charter that is more “Japanese,” whatever that means, but in any case, it’s all a facade to hide the notion that they’ll do whatever they like.