Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan out to amend pacifist constitution

By Cai Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-28 07:50

Fresh calls for constitutional amendment have got louder in Japan, with political parties proffering their own suggestions in the first six months of the year.

While Japan is interested in changing its constitutional interpretation of use of force, the United States has been pushing it to do so to fulfill its own vested interests.

A committee under the Japanese Prime Minister's office drafted a reform plan, calling for amendment to the constitutional interpretation that permits collective self-defense. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan has been reluctant to do so, though the conservative Liberal Democratic Party has been raving about a change in the interpretation of or amendment to the constitution along those lines.

That the government committee has jumped onto the LDP's wagon despite the DPJ being in office for three years means a change could be in the offing.

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which was enacted in 1947, says: "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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 ... The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

Literally, this suggests Japan should not have armed forces.

Japanese officials and experts have been complaining that this interpretation of Article 9 has restricted Japan's role in its alliance with the US and in the United Nations-sanctioned international peace operations.

Ironically, although the US imposed the pacifist constitution on Japan, some people in the US now want it to be changed. They claim the revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution is necessary for Japan's fuller integration with the US' military strategy.

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell had even urged Japan to consider revising its constitution if it wanted a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

"Japan's restriction on its right to collective self-defense are a constraint on its alliance cooperation," declared a report of a US think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2000 - also known as the first Armitage Report. "Lifting this prohibition would allow for closer and more efficient security cooperation."

Japan has interpreted Article 9 to mean that it can raise and maintain armed forces for self-defense and, since 1991, has allowed its "Self-Defense Forces" to participate in noncombat operations overseas in a number of UN peacekeeping missions and support the US forces in their operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Because of the global reorganization of its military bases and its return-to-Asia-Pacific strategy, the US has been pressuring Japan for a more complete military cooperation and partnership.

A report on Japan-US Relations released by US Congressional Research Service for the US Congress on May 4, 2012, says: "In general, Japan's US-drafted constitution remains an obstacle to closer US-Japan defense cooperation because of a prevailing constitutional interpretation of Article 9 that forbids engaging in 'collective self-defense'; that is, combat cooperation with the US against a third country."

The research service has published several reports on US-Japan relations and alliance. It says the alliance, though sustained over half a century, still faces fundamental challenges, including long-standing constitutional and societal limits on Japan's military.

The US also considers the principle of "collective self-defense" an obstacle to close defense cooperation. The term comes from Article 51 of the UN Charter, which says member nations may exercise the rights of both individual and collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs.

In 1960, Japan's Cabinet Legislation Bureau interpreted the constitution to forbid collective action because it would require considering the defense of other countries, not just the safety of Japan.

The research service works exclusively for the US Congress, providing policy and legal analyses to committees and members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, regardless of party affiliation. That's why its recommendations for Japan could lay the foundation for the House and Senate to reach a consensus.

In the name of maintaining its right to exercise "self-defense", the Japanese government has been giving wider interpretations of Article 9, and thus distorting it. Japan's constitutional change would affect the size, composition and mission of the Japanese "Self-Defense Forces".

The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of China Daily. E-mail:

(China Daily 07/28/2012 page5)

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