Article 99 of the Constitution states, “The Emperor or the Regent as well as Ministers of State, members of the Diet, judges, and all other public officials have the obligation to respect and uphold this Constitution.” Over the past year, the Abe administration and the ruling coalition parties have tweaked the government’s long-standing interpretation of the Constitution to circumvent its pacifist principles. And members of the administration and the governing alliance are now talking ever more loudly of amending the nation’s highest law 68 years after it took effect in 1947.
Following the reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 in a Cabinet decision last July, the administration is preparing a set of legislation that would enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense and expand the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ overseas missions. Without amending the Constitution, the move represents a major departure from the nation’s postwar defense posture under the Constitution.
True, the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense, or defending an ally under attack even if Japan itself is not being attacked. However, postwar Japan has refrained from sending the SDF abroad on combat missions by upholding the spirit of Article 9, which renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation.” For decades, the government maintained the view that the Constitution bans the nation from engaging in collective self-defense. The “defense only policy” — repelling an enemy with a minimum necessary force only when Japan is attacked — has represented the maximum allowable limit under Article 9.
The Abe administration’s change of the constitutional interpretation and the proposed legislation to be submitted to the Diet later this month will remove this limit and radically change the present character of the SDF. Conditions that the government will have to take into consideration in deciding to engage in collective self-defense operations under the planned legislation are so vaguely defined that much will be left to the discretion of the administration in power.
In addition, the ruling coalition has decided to remove a geographical limit on the SDF’s logistic support for the U.S. military and possibly forces of other countries in dealing with situations that seriously affect Japan’s peace and security. Even before this change is taken up by the Diet, the Japanese and U.S. governments, in revising the guidelines on bilateral defense cooperation in late April, agreed to expand the scope of joint operations of the SDF and the U.S. military on a global scale.
The administration is also trying to enact what it calls an “international peace support” law, under which the SDF will be able to provide logistic support — including supply of ammunition — to forces of other countries engaged in missions to remove threats to international peace and security. Although the SDF will be dispatched only when the United Nations have passed relevant resolutions, government leaders and officials and lawmakers should not forget a provision in Article 9 — that “the Japanese people forever renounce . . . the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” The Diet should strictly scrutinize the planned legislation against this provision of Article 9.
After returning to power in 2012, Abe initially proposed changing Article 96 of the Constitution to ease the requirements on the Diet to initiate constitutional amendments. He was forced to shelve the idea amid severe criticism, but then he resorted to changing the government’s interpretation of Article 9 in the Cabinet decision last year — and is now preparing to submit to the Diet the legislation that would implement the Cabinet decision — without bothering to follow the procedure of revising the Constitution, which must be endorsed by a majority in a national referendum.
The Abe administration and the Liberal Democratic Party are now advocating a constitutional amendment as early as in 2017 — while Abe will still likely be in office. They appear willing to initially change the Constitution where they can agree with other parties — and then explore changing its more politically sensitive provisions, including Article 9, later on.
Proponents of revising the Constitution, including Abe himself, are eager to spread the view that the Constitution was imposed on the nation by the U.S.-led Occupation forces right after its defeat in World War II. But the fact that Japanese people in those days welcomed the Constitution and subsequently upheld it — and that Japan, under Article 9, did not become a direct party to military conflicts over the past 70 years — carry great significance.
It must be noted that the Diet, in discussing the draft of the Constitution at that time, changed the text of Article 9 and inserted Article 25, which guarantees that “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” and calls on the government to take necessary social welfare and security and public health measures, making clear the government’s duty to work to improve people’s well-being.
The effort to emphasize the United States’ unilateral influence in drafting the Constitution could lead people to forget the important role it has played in postwar Japan in protecting and promoting basic human rights and keeping the nation from becoming a direct party to war. The effort is also an insult to Japanese lawmakers’ efforts to exercise their autonomy as much as possible under the Allied Occupation in deliberating on the draft of the Constitution.
In today’s Japan, narrow nationalistic sentiments, and attempts to water down Japan’s war responsibility and glorify its past, are going hand in hand with the efforts to revise the Constitution. The LDP’s draft revision of the Constitution, which the party released in 2012, says in its preamble that Japan is a country that has a “long history and an indigenous culture” and a country that has the Emperor, a symbol of people’s unity, at its top. It also says that the people shall protect not only the state and native areas “with pride and mettle” but also its “beautiful national land” and the environment. Unlike the preamble of the current Constitution — which is seen as a reflection on Japan’s militarist past, the LDP draft merely says that Japan has overcome the devastation caused by the last world war.
While the LDP draft briefly says that under the principle of sovereignty resting with people, Japan is governed under the separation of the three powers of administration, legislation, and judicature, the preamble of the current Constitution says that the Japanese people, “resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people.” While calling that principle “a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded,” it declares, “We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship.”
Concerned citizens, scholars and lawmakers should take concrete actions to show how the current Constitution has contributed to building today’s Japan and expose problems in the moves to amend the supreme law.