After 70 years, Japan may finally be on the cusp of acquiring its own military. Legally, that is. Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated his desire to change the Constitution by 2020 to include a clause to give legal standing to the Self-Defense Forces. The revision, while historically controversial domestically, is long overdue.
Written in 1946 by the United States after Japan's devastating defeat in World War II, the Constitution legally prohibits Japan from waging war and obtaining "war potential." Article 9 — often referred to as the peace clause — renounces war as a sovereign right and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish this aim, the article specifies that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."
In spite of the article, Japan went on to establish the SDF in 1954, building it into one of the most advanced armed forces in the world. Japanese governments were able to do this by arguing that because the SDF's exclusive purpose is defensive, including a conscious decision not to acquire offense-oriented weaponry, the SDF does not violate the "war potential" prohibition. Domestically then, the SDF is not a military. To everyone outside of Japan, the SDF is a military. As a result, the SDF exists as a military in all but name, and this is exactly why Abe's proposed constitutional revision makes sense.