Sixty years after the postwar pacifist Constitution was promulgated Nov. 3, 1946, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other politicians are pushing to revise the supreme law. Strangely, their call for constitutional revision comes amid a lack of enthusiasm for it among the public in general. Clearly, people don’t feel a pressing need for constitutional revision.
What people want is concrete policy measures to deal with the social and economic problems they face. Devoting political energy to efforts to revise the Constitution will likely divert attention from the nation’s mounting problems, such as the widening gap between rich and poor, a large number of nonregular workers, children’s declining scholastic ability, bullying at school, and worries about pension and medical service including nursing care.
Although North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program poses a security problem, this matter should be dealt with through joint diplomatic efforts involving Japan and other countries. Constitutional revision, a long process, would not directly contribute to solving it.
Since the main aim of Mr. Abe and other politicians is to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, a principle that has shaped the main character of postwar Japan, their discourse in itself could lead to neighboring countries’ changing their basic perception of Japan and thus complicate the security landscape in this region.
Constitutional revision has been one of the main planks of the Liberal Democratic Party’s platform since the party was established in November 1955. But most prime ministers from the LDP have refrained from pushing revision. That’s because they realized that the Constitution is firmly rooted in society and supported by the Japanese people. One exception was Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, who put constitutional revision on his political agenda during his third administration, which lasted from shortly after the LDP’s establishment to December 1956. Mr. Abe is the second prime minister to do so.
During his campaign in the LDP presidential race, Mr. Abe put forward a grand theme of “departing from the postwar regime” and revising the Constitution. In his first policy speech before the Diet, he expressed hope that a law to set down procedures for constitutional revision would be enacted. He also hinted that he thinks the Constitution is outmoded: “The current Constitution was enacted while Japan was under occupation, and nearly 60 years have passed since then. Discussions are being actively held on forming a Constitution befitting the new age.”
Although, as prime minister, Mr. Abe has been almost mum about what he thinks is wrong with the Constitution, his book, “Toward a Beautiful Country,” published while he was chief Cabinet secretary during the Koizumi administration, snubbed Article 9 as well as the Preamble of the Constitution. The latter sets forth Japan’s determination to “preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.”
In an interview published in the Financial Times, just two days before the 60th anniversary of the Constitution’s promulgation, Mr. Abe suggested a concrete schedule for constitutional revision. The article made some people wonder why he doesn’t say the same thing in the Diet or to the Japanese press. In the interview, Mr. Abe expressed hope for achieving revision within six years while serving as LDP president for two terms (each term lasts three years) — hence while he is prime minister.
Concerning Article 9, he said it “needs to be revised from the viewpoint of defending Japan.” But this statement is too rough and even misleading. It gives the impression that Article 9 — under which Japan renounces war as a sovereign right and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes, and refrains from maintaining “land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential” to accomplish the above — is undermining Japan’s national interests and actually putting Japan’s security in jeopardy.
It must be remembered that Article 9 has served as a pledge of not repeating wars of aggression and as a means of limiting Japan’s military activities and gaining the trust of other peoples and nations. Japan’s constitution-derived “defense-only” principle, which allows Japan to hit back only when it is attacked and defers to the United States on offense, is quite rational. Yet Mr. Abe’s view could be taken as opposed to this long-standing policy.
The Japanese should be proud of the fact that under the pacifist Constitution, Japan has reconstructed itself as a democracy and has never engaged in hostilities with other nations.
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