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More than two months have passed since the Diet began debating the Constitution for the first time. It is too early to predict how the debate at the Constitutional Review Council will develop, but conservative hardliners both in and outside the ruling coalition are already talking up the need to rewrite Article 9.

Article 9, which defines the nation’s defense and security policy, is the most controversial part of the national charter. The question of whether to revise it, therefore, far outweighs other revision issues, including new provisions for the right to a clean environment and public assistance for private universities. This question will become a hot political issue.

In the general election that is expected to be held late in June, advocates of rewording this particular clause should depart from their usual practice of blaring hollow slogans and try to convey their specific views on this topic to the voters. Most of the proponents of change, who belong to the three conservative parties — the Liberal Democratic Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party — give these reasons for an amendment:

First, Article 9, like most of the rest of the Constitution, was “imposed” by the Allied Powers’ general headquarters following Japan’s surrender in World War II and therefore should be rewritten by the Japanese. Second, under the current provisions Japan cannot make military contributions to international peace in ways befitting its national strength.

Third, the Constitution should refer specifically to the Self-Defense Forces, which came into being after the charter was adopted. And fourth, under the current constitutional restraints, Japan cannot take appropriate (read: effective military) action in the event of an unidentified ship intruding into its territorial waters, as demonstrated by an incursion by North Korean spy boats in March last year.

The view that the Constitution was thrust upon war-defeated Japan has been thrashed out at several hearings held by the Lower House Constitutional Review Council, where scholars explained how the charter was drafted. The sessions made it clear that this view is untenable as a rationale for amending the charter.

The proponents of revision are now shifting their emphasis to the second and third reasons: The Constitution should state Japan’s obligations to make due contributions to international security, and the discrepancy between the wording of Article 9 and the reality of the SDF should be resolved.

Early on, Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, the outspoken leader of the Liberal Party, initiated the call for a revision that would let the SDF participate in regular United Nations forces or multinational forces authorized by U.N. Security Council resolutions. He now calls for adding a new provision to Article 9 so that Japan can make active international peace contributions, including the dispatch of SDF troops.

During the council debates, it was pointed out that Japan’s financial contribution to the 1991 Persian Gulf War ($13 billion) received no word of appreciation from Kuwait. In this regard, some scholars who attended the hearings, not just members of the conservative parties, contended that international confidence in Japan, as well as its own prosperity, would be undermined if it continued to refuse military contributions.

Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, also favors revising Article 9, on the ground that the SDF should be “recognized” as a regular military organization. Some members of the review council are trying to arouse public sympathy by stressing the “illegitimate” nature of the SDF. As expected, the revisionists came under fire from antirevision members, who argued strongly that Article 9 should be left as it is. However, the revisionists make up a majority of the council membership, which reflects the party lineup in the Diet.

The debate on Article 9 will probably gain momentum if the conservative parties make gains in the next election. Because the review council does not have the right to present revision bills, however, it is also likely that hardline members will propose reorganizing the panel into a standing committee.

It is unfortunate that the question of rewriting Article 9, particularly with regard to collective security action, continues to divide public opinion, more than half a century after the end of World War II. However, any hasty attempt to change it without securing public acceptance would only widen the schism. The debate in the Diet must inspire a broader constitutional discourse among the people. That, however, is premised on the total disclosure of both discussions conducted in the Diet.

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