The 23-minute ceremony aboard the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, was the most significant event in Japan’s recent history, and the most painful. The ceremony established the surrender of the Empire of Japan and marked the end of World War II.

After the horrific experience of the war, and to create the legal basis for the country’s future peaceful development, a new Constitution was enacted — the peace Constitution. Its defining characteristic is the renunciation of the right to wage war, contained in Article 9, and a provision for de jure popular sovereignty in conjunction with the monarchy.

Article 9 states that the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” To achieve this, the article provides that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” The extent of Article 9 has been debated since its enactment, particularly after the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces, a de facto military force, in 1954.

It is possible that originally the SDF was intended as something similar to what Mahatma Gandhi called the Shanti Sena, or soldiers of peace, or as a collective security police (peacekeeping) force, operating under the United Nations.

However, in July 2014, the Abe Cabinet introduced a reinterpretation of this role, giving more power to the SDF and allowing it to defend Japan’s allies.

This action, which potentially ends Japan’s long-standing pacifist policies, was supported by the U.S. but was heavily criticized by China and North Korea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a reinterpretation of those policies, asking that they allow for collective self-defense and for Japan to pursue a more active deterrence policy. Because of what many perceive as a decline in American hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan may want to fill the power vacuum left by the U.S. and play a more assertive role in regional security.

To that effect, Japan has reached some military agreements with countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam that are engaged in territorial disputes with China. At the same time, Abe wants to revitalize the economy and meet increasing social security demands.

It is possible that a redefined military force would make Japan more assertive in the international arena while at the same time, through increased military sales, it would receive additional income to help balance its economy. In 2014, the Abe government lifted the ban on arms exports and this year hosted a trade show on military defense systems.

Not everybody agrees with Abe’s push to militarization. Last June, Seiichiro Murakami, a veteran lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, wept during a press conference while denouncing Abe’s policies. “As a person who was educated under the postwar education system, I believe that the principle of pacifism, the sovereignty of people and respect of basic human rights should be something that absolutely cannot be changed,” he said.

Rearming Japan also carries the risk of igniting a regional arms race of unpredictable but certainly not good consequences. Given the volatility in the region, Japan would do well to follow the precepts established in Article 9.

Cesar Chelala writes frequently about humanitarian issues.

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