National / Politics

Former defense chief courts controversy by questioning Abe plan to revise Constitution

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should clarify the rationale behind his latest proposal to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution because it contradicts a revised draft officially adopted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

“LDP (lawmakers) have discussed Article 9 for more than 10 years, but I have never seen Mr. Abe say anything during a party meeting,” said Ishiba, a former LDP secretary-general and defense minister.

“We have had heated discussions within the party that resulted in a revision draft of the Constitution by the LDP. First we need to understand (the contents of these past discussions),” he said.

Ishiba, who was twice tapped to serve as defense chief, is known among Diet members as a top military and security wonk.

As head of an LDP intraparty faction, he is also regarded as a prospective candidate for LDP chief — and the prime ministership — after Abe’s term expires.

But Ishiba has often courted controversy by raising objections to policies adopted by the Abe administration.

Earlier this month, Abe stunned LDP members and voters by abruptly proposing that Article 9 be revised in a national referendum and be put into force by 2020.

In his proposal, the prime minister said that a paragraph should be added to legitimize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.

The SDF was set up in 1954 in the wake of the Korean War — despite Article 9, which renounces Japan’s right to wage war in the first paragraph and bans the right to maintain military forces or other “war potential” in the second.

While many constitutional scholars have long argued that the SDF violates Article 9, the government has insisted that it is constitutional because any independent country inherently has the right of self-defense.

Recent public opinion polls have shown that a majority of voters support the government’s interpretation.

However, on May 3, Abe proposed that the existence of the SDF should be clearly mentioned in an additional paragraph of the article while keeping the first and second intact.

Abe has not offered further clarification of his proposal, though some of his aides have said it would not change any of the country’s basic security policies.

Ishiba, however, said that even if a third paragraph is added, it would still contradict the second, which bans the nation from possessing any war-making potential.

“If you say it would not contradict the second paragraph, you need to offer some explanation,” he said.

“It would just be a waste of time to discuss the issue if there is no explanation about what exactly the third paragraph would consist of,” Ishiba said.

Under the LDP’s 2012 proposal for revising the Constitution, the second paragraph of Article 9 would be replaced with a new one saying that Japan can exercise the right to self-defense despite the renunciation of war in the first paragraph.

This definition of “self-defense” is, according to the LDP draft, the same as that under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which allows member countries to fully exercise the right to both individual and collective self-defense.

Collective self-defense refers to the right of one country to use force to aid an ally under attack, even if the country itself is not under attack.

Under the current government’s interpretation of Article 9, Japan is allowed to employ the right to collective self-defense only if its “survival” is at stake.

The LDP draft would be a huge departure from Japan’s postwar pacifism as it would allow the SDF to drastically expand the legal scope of Japan’s military operations with U.S. forces.

In Ishiba’s view, the LDP’s proposal should be adopted in revising Article 9 because any sovereign nation should have its own military force in order to maintain its independence.

Many conservative nationalists, including Abe himself, have argued that the postwar Constitution — in particular Article 9 — should be changed since it was imposed on Japan by the U.S. during the postwar Occupation following its surrender in World War II.

Ishiba, however, said he does not support the view.

The citizens of Japan have accepted the postwar Constitution after suffering greatly in the war, he said.

Still, he said, Article 9 should be revised sooner rather than later so that the nation has a military to safeguard its independence.

“This is not a matter of ideology at all,” Ishiba said. “It’s just a matter of course as an independent state.”

Some critics say Abe made his proposal for adding a third paragraph because it is politically popular with many voters and a number of parties.

Now, Abe appears to have made the revision of Article 9 itself one of his main political goals. The prime minister — a political blue blood — has long detested the Constitution, which he believes was foisted upon Japan after the war.

But Ishiba cautioned against skipping even basic debate on the existence of the SDF when proposing revisions to the article.

The former defense chief has long been regarded as a potential successor to Abe and was narrowly defeated by him in the 2012 LDP presidential election.

If he again runs for the top LDP slot, and in effect for the prime ministership, Ishiba said he would be an advocate for the revision of Article 9 as originally proposed by the party.

“I think I would do that. That cannot be excluded,” he said in reference to policy proposals he would back.