Experts’ tongue-lashing rekindles Diet debate on reinterpreted Constitution

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The surprise bashing of the Abe administration by three noted constitutional scholars — including one favored by the ruling bloc — rekindled debate in the Diet Friday on the constitutionality of the Cabinet’s decision last summer to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida rebutted the remarks of the three scholars, who were summoned Thursday to address a Lower House session on constitutional affairs, by saying not all academics share their opinion.

“Some academics say it is not unconstitutional,” Kishida said at a news conference, adding that many opinions were solicited before the Cabinet unilaterally decided in July last year that Japan could legitimately engage in collective self-defense without amending the Constitution after all.

During Friday’s session of the special Lower House committee on security bills, Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Democratic Party of Japan demanded that the government withdraw the contentious legislation in light of the scholars’ opinions.

In response, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani argued that using the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack, is constitutional as long as its primary goal is to defend the lives of Japanese citizens, rather than the ally supposedly in need of help.

DPJ policy chief Goshi Hosono also said the bills should be scrapped, noting that the premises for passing them have not been properly set.

The three experts were Waseda University professor Yasuo Hasebe, who was summoned based on a recommendation by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling bloc; Setsu Kobayashi, professor emeritus at Keio University, who was recommended by the Democratic Party of Japan; and Eiji Sasada, another Waseda professor who was recommended by Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).

A party usually backs an academic expert who supports its own arguments for a Diet hearing. But betraying the expectations of the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc, Hasebe said the Abe administration’s push to reinterpret the Constitution last year to allow Japan to engage in collective defense effectively violates Article 9.

“Allowing the use of the right of collective self-defense cannot be explained within the framework of the basic logic of the past government views” of the Constitution, Hasebe explained to the lawmakers on the Committee on the Constitution.

“(The reinterpretation) considerably damages legal stability and violates the Constitution,” Hasebe said, echoing the opinions of the other two experts at the hearing.

According to Kyodo News, Hasebe’s unexpected remarks embarrassed the ruling bloc, which is pushing to pass state-sponsored security bills this summer that will use the controversial reinterpretation to expand the types of actions that can be taken by Japan’s defensive military forces at home and abroad.

“Why are they (LDP committee members) doing this during a sensitive time for deliberations on (the security) bills? This is an anti-party action, and the LDP (committee) members should all be replaced,” an unnamed LDP executive was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

The right of collective self-defense, as defined under the United Nations charter, allows a country to use force to come to the aid of an ally under attack, even if the country itself is not being attacked.

Article 9 of the Constitution had long been interpreted by the government as limiting Japan’s use of force strictly to self-defense, and as banning the use of collective self-defense.

But last year, Abe said he wanted to change the long-standing interpretation, arguing the Constitution allows Japan to defend its allies, particularly the U.S., if Japan’s survival is at stake and use of force is limited to the minimum necessary level.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended the Abe government’s position on Thursday, saying the opinions of the three scholars won’t affect Diet deliberations because the Constitution has not banned measures for self-defense.

“So the minimum necessary use of force should be allowed” and the reinterpretation is within the framework of the past government views, Suga argued.

Article 9 of the Constitution reads: “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.

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Japanese politicians in power have long argued that Article 9, despite its renunciation of war and prohibition on maintaining military forces, doesn’t deny the inherent right for a country to defend itself as long as it is limited to self-defense exclusively.

  • Richard Solomon

    As seen by Suga’s comments, PM Abe will not be deterred by the opinions of these 3 experts. When these laws pass in the Diet, can someone challenge them in Japan’s Supreme Court? If the Court were to determine that such a law was unconstitutional, would Abe/the LDP then have to revert back to a referendum to the people to decide if the Constitution can be rewritten?

  • Ahojanen

    Of course the ongoing re-interpretation is unconstitutional. The existence of SDF is also unconstitutional. The US-Japan security treat is unconstitutional. The gay marriage (approved in Shibuya) is unconstitutional. That’all scholars can say right now if they are to follow their academic integrity.

    What’s then the course of action? Amend the outdated constitution. This is the task for political leaders and Japanese citizens.

    … Well, I’m personally ok for the re-interpretation only, though. Let’s be flexible or easy-going :)

  • Liars N. Fools

    The debate is far from finished, and as CCS Suga has vowed the Abe Shinzo administration will plunge ahead against public opinion, against expert advice, against the common sense logic of that advice to try to force this through. Now is the time for Komeito to assert its long missing moral voice.

    • zer0_0zor0

      How much do you know about the history of the Soka Gakkai?

  • Testerty

    Why not put the issue to the Japanese democratically and have a voting to decide if Article 9 of the Constitution should be removed? Why be sneaky about it? Oh, right, we talking about the Japanese government who wants to change the outcome of WWII.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Constitutional scholars disagree with Abe. Hope they don’t end up in prison for violating whatever state secret Abe decides they violated.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Congratulations to Professor Hasebe.

  • NankingChina

    Jew news? American Jews are an amazing group

    2% of US population
    88% of history channel stories.
    60% of US TV/Movie comedians/actors/producers
    45% of US bankers
    33% of US Supreme Court Justices
    25% of US homosexuals
    15% of Israel Defense Forces
    .000000000001% of US military forces, haven’t been many Jews in US military since 1949.

    “Today, the Jewish state has a greater number of Jewish Americans serving than in any other military including their own (USA) military; with roughly 3,000
    Americans who did not grow up in Israel serving”, said Israeli Defense Force (IDF) spokeswoman Lt. Libby Weiss.

    The U.S. government doesn’t discourage those wanting to join,
    but some may question why those willing to put themselves in harm’s way would choose the IDF as opposed to the American military.

    “As much I’m a proud American,” said David Meyers of Belmont, California, “there’s an incredibly deep and long connection that I have to Israel.”

    Their loyalty is to Israel not USA.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    I’m completely against attempts to bulldoze through Article 9, at least without hearing the opinion of the majority of the electorate through a referendum. However, if the truth be told, the article has not been respected word for word decades anyway “…land, sea, and air forces, as well as as other war potential…”, the “Self Defence Forces” have always (with some exceptions such as aircraft carriers) had the kind of materiel that perfectly fits a war of aggression. And Japan’s military expenditure has been one of the highest in the world for some time too.

    • J.P. Bunny

      Totally agree. I keep hearing about how important the Constitution is and how it needs to be changed so Japan can become a “normal” country, but then laws are being passed left and right that completely ignore the Constitution. If Delicate Abe and his right wing cadre are so sure that is the right thing to do, all of this should be be put to a vote by all eligible Japanese voters.

      The decision should be left to the people that will be sent off and killed to fight for all kinds of mysterious reasons, and to all of legal voting age that have a stake in this. Not to a group of old men that haven’t been to war, and have the ability to keep their children from fighting and ending up dead.

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        Indeed. Not that this trend towards militarism is a uniquely Japanese trend, but according to polls something in the order of 65% of the japanese electorate opposes this, and only about 25% support it. Of course if everyone who doesn’t like it had bothered to vote…..

      • J.P. Bunny

        Vote? Wouldn’t that require people to tear their eyes away from their phones for several minutes?