The national convention of the Japan Communist Party is expected to approve a proposal in November to revise its charter in order to tolerate the mobilization of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in a military emergency. The policy turnaround to match the party’s basic stance to reality was long overdue. In curious contradiction, however, the JCP still insists that the SDF is unconstitutional.

The question is: Does the JCP recognize the SDF even if it is unconstitutional? The policy change was made apparently to gloss over the perception gap regarding the SDF between the party leadership and local officials. The problem is reminiscent of policy mistakes made by the defunct Japan Socialist Party under Chairman Tomiichi Murayama, who became prime minister of a coalition government made up of the Liberal Democratic Party, the JSP and New Party Sakigake.

To preserve the coalition government, Murayama contravened the JSP’s basic policy stance of not recognizing the SDF. First, Murayama pronounced that the SDF was constitutional, a declaration that was welcomed by most Japanese. Second, Murayama expressed strong support for the Japan-U.S. security system, reportedly under strong political pressure as a condition for keeping the coalition government alive.

In my opinion, the Murayama administration was a good model of coalition government. However, Murayama should not have given the same degree of support to the security system that was given by the LDP. Takako Doi, a colleague of Murayama who is now leader of the Social Democratic Party, the JSP’s successor, expressed strong doubts about Murayama’s action and said he should have said only that the bilateral security system should be maintained.

Murayama thus effectively pledged unlimited cooperation with U.S. global defense strategies, a move that affects the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. The JSP reversed its long-standing position that the U.S.-Japan security system was in fact a military alliance based on U.S. global defense strategies and that it would increase tension in the Far East and endanger peace and security in Japan.

The reversal led to a steady decline of the SDP, once one of the two major Japanese political parties along with the LDP. Many local JSP officials quit the party in disappointment, after staging years of futile protest campaigns against the U.S. military presence in Japan. Public support for the party decreased.

In my opinion, the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution does not deny Japan’s right for self-defense but only pledges Japan’s noninvolvement in foreign military conflicts. I do not doubt that the SDF is constitutional.

As long as the Constitution bans Japan’s involvement in foreign military conflicts, the nation is not allowed to pose a military threat to another country when it is not attacked, or to stage an armed attack against a foreign country under a defense agreement with another country.

The JCP’s new policy endorses the SDF’s self-defense activities but says nothing about what Japan should do if it is asked to join the United States in military action outside its territories under the guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation.

The question is how the JCP has changed. According to media reports, the party will also seek to eliminate the phrases “socialist revolution” and “class struggle.” That is hardly surprising. Few Japanese want communist rule.

It is clear that the JCP is moving toward recognizing the SDF’s constitutionality. But it is far from clear if the party will seek a ban under the Constitution on the dispatch of SDF troops overseas or Japan-U.S. joint military action. I hope that the JCP will clarify its stand soon on the question.

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