National / Politics

Abe repeats goal of revising Article 9 in speech to SDF’s top brass

Kyodo

In a speech at the Defense Ministry on Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled his resolve to amend the Constitution to ensure the legitimacy of the Self-Defense Forces.

“Arranging an environment where all SDF personnel can fulfill their duties with strong pride is the responsibility of politicians living in the present,” he said to some 180 senior officers ahead of his party’s leadership election later this month. “I am determined to fully carry out my duty.”

However, he stopped short of directly mentioning his goal of making Japan’s first revisions ever to the charter as he addressed the SDF’s top brass. The supreme law took effect in 1947.

The prime minister has called for adding an explicit reference to the SDF in war-renouncing Article 9, which bans Japan from maintaining air, sea and land forces, so there is no room to view them as unconstitutional.

Ahead of a debate on the SDF’s constitutionality, Abe said that he, as the top SDF commander and a lawmaker, is “ashamed of thoughtless criticism” leveled at SDF service members.

Last month, Abe, who is widely projected to win the Liberal Democratic Party’s Sept. 20 race, said his party should submit constitutional revision proposals to the extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the fall.

In his speech, Abe also stressed the significance of reviewing Japan’s defense-buildup guidelines, which sets out the capabilities Japan should achieve over the next decade.

The Abe administration aims to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines, last approved in December 2013, and the Mid-Term Defense Program, which specifies a five-year spending and procurement plan, by the end of the year.

Abe said overhauling the guidelines will be “crucially important as it will decide the future of Japan’s security.” He also emphasized that Japan must beef up its defensive capabilities in electronic warfare as well as new spheres of conflict, including cyberspace and outer space.

The prime minister said the security situation around Japan has grown severe at a much faster rate than five years ago, when Japan set the current guidelines.

“We have to break away from the norm of completing new defense capabilities in the space of five to 10 years. Common sense so far no longer has effect,” he said.

In its annual white paper released last week, the Defense Ministry said Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs remain a serious threat to Tokyo despite the recent easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the historic U.S.-North Korean summit in June.

For fiscal 2019 starting in April, the ministry has requested a record budget of ¥5.3 trillion that will cover a pair of U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense batteries aimed at countering North Korea.