On the cusp of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II when Emperor Hirohito made his historic speech of surrender, the Abe government is attempting to drive through the Diet 11 security bills that will forever alter the landscape of Japan’s postwar history. The nation that does not wage war will be no more if it gets its way.
Guided in its efforts is a military-industrial complex that is salivating to get Japan to share the burden of fighting with its closest ally, the United States. Japan has recently expressed interest in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization missile-building consortium, a move in seamless alliance with this New Normal for Japan, a normal that we believe threatens global security.
As scholars from Japan and the U.S., we oppose the new security bills and call on anyone who is unfamiliar with what’s happening to get informed. What we have here is legislation without representation; at its worst, tyranny.
In clear violation of Article 9 of the Constitution, which famously renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes, these bills would provide for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to cooperate actively with U.S. and other foreign military operations overseas. If adopted, Japan will be able to use military force even when it is not attacked, under the name of collective self-defense. Let us not mince words: this spells the end of Article 9 without ever formally amending it according to due process of law.
We cannot believe any assurances from a prime minister who thinks nothing of the constitutional ban and popular opposition that these security bills will strictly limit Japan’s military role. This legislation opens the door to virtually unfettered government discretion over the use of force that violates Japan’s fundamental principle over six decades of an exclusively self-defense posture.
The Japanese people, having been the only population to suffer atomic bombs, are overwhelmingly in support of maintaining peaceful relations with the world. They wish to protect the sanctity and heritage of Article 9. A nation that renounces war is part of Japan’s peace national brand, and has allowed Japan to develop as a world class economic and culture power with a strong mandate for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and development aid.
Should these security bills get passed, Japan will no longer be able to advocate for a peace and nonviolence paradigm in national security. Our view is that Japan’s peace Constitution should not be altered but should continue to serve as a model for other countries. It should certainly not be “reinterpreted” arbitrarily by the government of the day.
Article 23 of the Constitution guarantees academic freedom, and it is within this guarantee that we, as public scholars in Japan and signatories to the Association of Scholars Opposed to the Security-related Bills, are speaking out. One of us is an Abe fellow at Keio University and former Fulbright scholar at Sophia University; the other is a political scientist at Sophia University who received the Friend of the Free Press award this spring from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
We stand with the growing political protests from scholars, students, lawyers, workers and mothers that are coalescing against a government displaying total disregard for democratic speech and assembly. Japan is the closest Asian ally to the U.S. and we take this binational alliance of democracies literally and to heart. We oppose this government fait accompli that refuses to listen to citizen debate, discussion, or dialogue. We call on the Abe government to observe the democratic and constitutional due process before it does irreparable damage to the national character of postwar Japan.
The Abe government has shown no concern for the Japanese people. It is attempting to circumvent the Constitution by ramming the security bills through the Diet without the constitutionally mandated process for a constitutional revision (Article 96) requiring a two-third majority of both houses of parliament and a majority support from the people in a special referendum.
We write, backed as we are from thousands of scholars and millions of Japanese who share our opposition, to object to the security bills in principle and process. Our objections are marinated with affection, concern and care for Japan and the Japanese people.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration cannot claim to have a popular mandate for imposing these changes, even if we leave aside the unconstitutionality of the bills. It has a large majority in both houses only because of record-high voting abstention rates, a divided opposition, a muzzled media, the bias of the first-past-the-post system, and the enormous disparity of the value of the vote that has been repeatedly ruled to be in a state of unconstitutionality by the courts.
In reality, only one in four voters actively voted for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. The prime minister has, nevertheless, said that within 20 to 30 years he will be vindicated; thus, public opinion, which he seems to view with disdain, is dismissed. We believe that the Japanese people deserve more credit and respect than what they are being shown by their government.
These security bills stand against Japan’s well-deserved human security reputation in the world. Human security puts people’s needs and rights first, and views security within the prism of a multidisciplinary understanding of the world that involves development studies, education, science and technology for good, and peaceful international relations.
The United Nation’s Human Development Report of 1994 argues that global human security is about promoting “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” for all people. With Japan’s growing poverty indices, aging population and record-breaking national debt, these security bills, if passed, will likely lead to greater insecurity just at the time when Japan itself is seeking to become a bigger player again on the world stage. Before Abe flexes his military muscles, indulges himself in historical revisionism and preaches to China about the rule of law, he should observe the principle of rule of law at home.
By turning a blind eye on Abe’s arrogance of power moment, the U.S. risks not only aggravating the regional tension and rivalry in Asia-Pacific, but also antagonizing the Japanese public, who came to embrace the postwar values of constitutionalism, democracy and peace.
Koichi Nakano is a professor of political science at Sophia University. Nancy Snow is an Abe fellow and a visiting professor at Keio University.