The 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers has arrived. This year’s anniversary to mark the end of World War II comes as Japan, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appears to be discarding self-restraint in the use of military forces — an important postwar principle that helped Japan gain the international community’s trust.

As then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said in his Aug. 15, 1995, statement to mark the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, Japan should not forget that “Japan … through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.”

If Mr. Abe’s policy leads other countries in the Asia-Pacific region to think that the Japanese government has forgotten Mr. Murayama’s words, tensions will rise and Japan will become more isolated.

Mr. Abe’s goal is to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense: using military power to help defend an ally even if Japan isn’t being attacked. Under the traditional government interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, this is not permitted. Exercising the right to collective self-defense will be tantamount to eliminating the Constitution’s no-war clause, Article 9. In the long run, it could pave the way for the government to deploy military forces overseas for purposes other than the direct defense of Japan.

Mr. Abe plans to skirt the normal procedure to revise the Constitution by merely enacting a law that allows Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. This would amount to a de facto revision of Article 9 under a method that undermines the principles of constitutional democracy. It must be stopped.

In an interim report for the nation’s new defense program outline, the Defense Ministry hints that the government wants to have capabilities to carry out preemptive attacks on enemy missile bases. The report also calls for creating an amphibious force with landing capabilities for the defense of remote islands, similar to the role carried out by the U.S. Marine Corps, and for introducing high-altitude unmanned surveillance aircraft.

It is not far-fetched to say that Mr. Abe’s government seeks to acquire the capabilities to project military power overseas, clearly overstepping Japan’s postwar principle of “defense-only defense.”

In April, Mr. Abe told the Diet, “There is no definition of aggression, academically and internationally.” On July 29, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso referred to how the Nazi government of Germany suspended the Weimar Constitution and then hinted that the forces pushing for constitutional revisions should try to achieve their goal, slyly and secretively, by keeping people in the dark about changes to the Constitution. Japan’s leaders should realize that such statements only serve to deepen suspicions in the international community about Japan’s intentions and future direction as a nation.

The Abe government should strictly uphold the spirit of Mr. Murayama’s statement, which in part said, “Our task is to convey to younger generations the horrors of war so that we never repeat the errors in our history,” and “Japan must eliminate self-righteous nationalism, promote international coordination as a responsible member of the international community and, thereby, advance the principles of peace and democracy.”

We disagree with Mr. Abe’s goal to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. But if he is to pursue this policy course, then he must attempt to do so in a manner that upholds rather than undermines the principles of Japanese democracy.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.