This is the 15th general election I have witnessed since coming to live in Japan in 1967, and by any standards it is the most crucial one of those for this country.

Only once before have I regarded an upcoming general election in the same way, and that was in 2009. On that occasion, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had had a virtual monopoly in government for more than half a century, was ousted by the seemingly more progressive Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

But alas, as has become all too clear, the emphasis was on “seemingly” rather than “progressive”; and the country is now faced with two iconic issues that were not to the fore in the last election: the continuance or abandonment of nuclear energy; and the status and future role of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).

The agendas of the two main parties — the DPJ and LDP — on nuclear energy are not significantly far apart; and when you add in that of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), you get a broad pro-nuclear consensus from the leading political groupings. (While the DPJ has expressed a desire to phase out nuclear energy in the 2030s, few indeed believe there is any guarantee the party would stick to its vague plan.)

The conglomeration of small parties under the banner of the new Nippon Mirai no To (Japan Future Party [JFP]), established late last month by Shiga Prefecture Gov. Yukiko Kada, is positively committed to the disuse of nuclear energy by 2022; but the JFP’s chances of gaining power are nonexistent, despite much popular support for their platform. The likely outcome is a victory for the LDP, which is committed to restarting virtually all reactors.

This leaves the other issue, that of the role of the armed forces, as the defining one — defining, because it will determine the role Japan will play in defense and world security in the coming years. I would assume that in Beijing, Seoul and other capitals in the region, this will be the most closely watched election in decades.

Shinzo Abe, president of the LDP and the man most likely to be the next prime minister of Japan, has made his stance clear on the status and role of the military. On the satellite TV channel BS11’s popular “Mirai Vision (Future Vision)” program on Sept. 3, 2011, he gave three reasons why Japan must amend the explicitly war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution:

First, because it was handed down by U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers during the 1945-52 postwar Occupation.

Second, because it is more than 60 years old and hence “is not appropriate” for the 21st century.

Third, because Japanese people should change it by their own hand, turning it into “our Constitution.”

During the long interview, Abe — who was prime minister for nearly a year in 2006-07 — stressed that “the guarantee of security is the life of the people. A military force is needed to defend the country.” He would refashion the Jieitai (JSDF) — that were formed in 1954 and comprise the Ground, Maritime and Air SDFs) — into a Kokubogun (National Military).

The key character when the latter is written in kanji, rather than the Roman alphabet, is “gun” — which means “military,” “army” or “forces.” It has a distinctly prewar ring to it.

Article 9 states that Japan “(aspires) sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order.” It renounces war “and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Truly, this is the most awe-inspiring and revolutionary article dealing with defense and belligerency in the constitution of any nation on Earth.

Abe’s stated goal is to revise downward the rule authorizing the government to call a national referendum— from two-thirds to a simple majority of Upper House and Lower House members of the Diet — and to then call one to amend Article 9 of the Constitution and turn the JSDF’s branches into military forces capable of carrying out offensive action “in the name of defense.”

If Abe becomes prime minister, it is almost certain that he will adopt a more confrontational position toward China, South Korea and Russia on the three territorial issues of dispute with those countries.

He will no doubt aggressively pursue the abduction issue with North Korea — an issue he previously exploited as prime minister by meeting publicly with the parents of the abductee Megumi Yokota, just as U.S. President George W. Bush met with and manipulated the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, stirring up faux patriotism in pursuit of his own agenda as commander-in-chief.

The tragedies of terror attacks on individuals and occupied buildings are horrible enough without the indecent use of victims as commiseration pawns.

Despite the sham rhetoric of national prestige that underpins the LDP stance, there is no way in the world that a strategy of confrontation will work vis-à-vis the stubborn nationalism of Japan’s neighbors. The only means to settle these territorial and abduction disputes is through prolonged negotiation based not on in-your-face assailment but on persuasion and compromise leading to the securing of mutually beneficial strategic outcomes.

If the LDP wins this election and goes ahead with its plans to recast the military — subject, of course, to half Japan’s eligible referendum voters agreeing — then the only thing that can be expected is heightened aggravation from neighbors and the rattle of slogans leading to violence.

Abe is as poor a historian as he is a judge of strategy.

While it is true that the Constitution was drafted by a team established under the auspices of the Allied Occupation authorities, and was presented to the Japanese government by them, that was done primarily to ensure the viability of the Emperor as head of state — something that Japanese politicians and bureaucrats alike considered their primary concern.

There were popular moves afoot in Japan at the beginning of 1946, when the Constitution was written, to formulate a so-called People’s Constitution — one that reflected the anti-Imperial sentiment pervading Japanese society at the time.

Had this been allowed, MacArthur feared the status of the Emperor might be forsaken — a personage he was in a hurry to protect not only from popular sentiment but also from the belligerent anti-Imperial position taken by certain of the United States’ allies in the Occupation — primarily Australia and the U.S.S.R.

Japanese officials considered Article 9, the so-called peace clause, a reasonable price to pay to protect their beloved monarch.

As for Article 9 not being suited to the exigencies of our century, the truth is precisely the opposite.

Violent clashes of military force backed up by the threat of nuclear devastation may, on the odd occasion, allow a country to plant its flag on some territory or other. But this only adds to the injury of pride later on, providing a future bone of contention that sticks in the loser’s throat. The only lasting peace is one fashioned through mutual and advised consent.

To refute Abe’s third point, that Japanese people must have a Constitution of “their own,” I would cite one of the greatest statesman of the era, and one who was intimately involved in the constitutional dilemma of 1946.

Jiro Shirasu, a Cambridge University graduate and fluent English speaker who produced the first Japanese-language draft of the Constitution, said this: “Whether it was forced on us or not, should we not accept it in a straightforward manner? When something is good, it’s good. …

“It was in our era that we prosecuted the stupid war, so aren’t we obliged to feel more acutely the responsibility for losing it so badly?”

If Abe becomes the next prime minister, the threat of Japan becoming involved in another “stupid war” becomes real.

That the Constitution has overseen peace and prosperity in Japan for more than 65 years is a tribute to its validity. Destroy that and all Asia may plunge into nationalistic clashes and cross-border turmoil.

Article 9 of the Constitution is not only the mainstay of Japan’s integrity — it is the hope of all Asia. This election may be key to deciding its future once and for all.

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