Having marked the 60th anniversary Friday of the 1946 promulgation of the Constitution, Japan is facing a turning point amid growing political efforts to rewrite the supreme code to reflect greater patriotism and ease military restrictions.
People opposed to revising the Constitution, and especially war-renouncing Article 9, take to the streets in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Friday, the 60th anniversary of the charter’s 1946 promulgation. KYODO PHOTO
Discussions about revising the war-renouncing Constitution, which was drafted by U.S. Occupation forces and strictly limits the military to self-defense, have been brewing for years, but the recent nuclear threat from North Korea has brought the debate to a head. The anniversary also comes at a time when Japan has seen its first postwar-born prime minister take office, a conservative hawk who declared amending the Constitution a priority in his effort to end the “postwar regime” of guilt. “It’s been 60 years, and during this time there has been a change of hands between two generations,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday on the eve of the anniversary. “Over this long period of time, the Constitution’s basic values of peace, democracy and human rights have taken firm root among the Japanese people.” Abe, who has stayed relatively low-key on the issue since becoming prime minister in late September, said last week that having Japanese people write their own Constitution will open up a new era. He said clearly for the first time in an interview with the Financial Times last week that he aims to achieve the revision during his term in office, which could last six years if he succeeds in being re-elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. In the interview, Abe specifically cited Article 9, which renounces Japan’s right to wage war or maintain armed forces, as a “typical example” of provisions that no longer suit the current times. “This article needs to be revised from the viewpoint of Japan’s defense, and also to comply with international expectations that Japan make international contributions” to peacekeeping and other missions, he was quoted as saying. In a policy speech in September, Abe vowed to study the possibility of easing Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective defense in specific cases. Abe is moving in this direction partly in response to growing expectations from the United States that Japan play a bigger role under the bilateral security alliance amid rising tensions in Northeast Asia. But any changes to Article 9, including the LDP’s proposal to formally declare the SDF a military force, will undoubtedly draw criticism from parts of Asia where bitter memories of Japanese wartime aggression and colonial rule remain, especially in China and on the Korean Peninsula. Some members of Abe’s Cabinet and his LDP executives have added fuel to the debate lately by calling for discussions on the possibility of Japan possessing nuclear arms in the wake of North Korea’s Oct. 9 nuclear test. Among the most outspoken has been Shoichi Nakagawa, the LDP’s policy chief, who has repeatedly said Japan must rethink its national security policy and consider whether to go nuclear. He has likened the current situation to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Foreign Minister Taro Aso, another hawk, made similar remarks, saying discussions about going nuclear must not be suppressed. Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, has held onto its war-renouncing Constitution and three principles of not possessing, producing or stationing nuclear arms. The recent remarks by Nakagawa and Aso have raised alarm bells and prompted Abe to rule out nuclear debate in the government and even in the ruling party. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki has also repeatedly stressed that Abe and Nakayama have made their remarks as lawmakers and the government’s official stance remains unchanged. Fumio Kyuma, director general of the Defense Agency, expressed his support for revising Article 9, saying Nov. 1 in the Diet: “That article, if it stays the way it is, easily creates misunderstanding. We – may be unable to participate in some missions due to the provision, even if all U.N. members are taking part. It is time to make a change.”
Since the first overseas deployment of the SDF on a minesweeping mission to the Persian Gulf in 1991 after the Gulf War, the scope of international military involvement has gradually been expanded by passing various special laws.
It sent SDF elements to support U.N. peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and other places, is currently providing logistic support to U.S.-led allied forces’ antiterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean, and sent troops on a reconstruction mission in southern Iraq.
Although the Constitution is not expected to be revised immediately, as both the ruling and opposition camps remain cautious ahead of next summer’s House of Councilors election, the Abe administration is aiming to have the current Diet session pass, as a prelude to the Constitution revision, a bill to revise the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education to teach patriotism in classrooms.
Abe also hopes to enact a referendum bill paving the way for a vote on constitutional revision and wants legislation passed to upgrade the defense agency into a ministry.
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