The Yomiuri Shimbun The Liberal Democratic Party intends to compile its draft constitutional revisions and submit them to an ordinary Diet session this year. Will this put an end to inconclusive arguments over Article 9?
This is the first installment of a series examining issues related to its revision.
At a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Nov. 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also president of the LDP, expressed his desire to refer to the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution.
Akira Nagatsuma of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan asked: “If you’re saying that things will remain the same even if the SDF is written into the Constitution, then why even raise the matter?”
Abe replied: “Most school textbooks include descriptions that cast doubt over the constitutionality of the SDF. I heard that a member of the SDF felt disheartened when his child asked: ‘Daddy, are you unconstitutional?’”
The prime minister continued: “It is the responsibility of our generation to clear away any remaining debate about the possible unconstitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces for the sake of SDF members, who work diligently to protect the lives of Japanese citizens in the midst of the tense North Korean situation and the increasingly severe security environment.”
In the postwar period, the main focus of constitutional debate has been Article 9. The first paragraph stipulates Japan’s renunciation of war. The second paragraph is more significant as it stipulates that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” Does the SDF constitute war potential or not? Debates from various points of view have repeatedly been held over the second paragraph of Article 9 and the SDF.
The SDF was established in 1954 after the Korean War, with its predecessor organizations having existed under such names as the National Police Reserve. When constitutional revision was extremely difficult due to confrontation between conservative and progressive forces, the government justified the status quo based on such interpretations as that the SDF is an organization allowed to use the minimum necessary force and that it is not war potential.
Even under the coalition government of the LDP, the Social Democratic Party of Japan and New Party Sakigake (Pioneers), launched in June 1994, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of the SDPJ shifted to accepting that the “SDF is constitutional,” and consistency was maintained in this regard.
However, the argument that the SDF is unconstitutional because it “possesses tanks and fighter aircraft and thus constitutes war potential” is deeply rooted among constitutional scholars. In Diet deliberations, Abe has repeatedly expressed discontent, stating: “Only 20 percent of constitutional scholars say that the SDF is constitutional, and 70 percent say that it is unconstitutional or that it cannot be considered constitutional.”
To put a lid on inconclusive arguments, in May last year the prime minister proposed adding a stipulation in the Constitution to provide a constitutional basis for the SDF while maintaining the first and second paragraphs. Retaining the second paragraph allows for the inclusion of the highly fragile interpretation of the Constitution as it now stands. To the Japanese people and the rest of the world, it also sends out a reassuring message that Japan’s pacifism will not be undermined.
Moreover, it also appeared easy to obtain the understanding of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner. In the past, Komeito held discussions on newly creating “Article 9-2” to stipulate that the SDF is an organization allowed to use force exclusively for defense purposes, thus making an addition to the Constitution. The prime minister has stated that “this will not bring about any change to the duties and authority of the SDF.”
Okiharu Yasuoka, who previously served as chairman of the LDP’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, also sought understanding by pointing out that “this would not shift even a millimeter from the current government interpretation.”
‘War potential’ issue not settled
However, weaknesses in the prime minister’s proposal also have been highlighted. Retaining the second paragraph, which was the core issue in past debates, means that the issue over whether the SDF constitutes war potential will not be settled.
In the draft constitutional revisions it compiled in the past, the LDP made amendments to the second paragraph of Article 9. In the 2005 draft compiled under the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the second paragraph was removed. In its place, Article 9-2 was devised to stipulate that the nation will “possess ‘self-defense forces,’ with the prime minister as supreme commander.” In the 2012 version of the draft compiled by the LDP while it was in opposition, the party revised the second paragraph of Article 9 and stipulated the nation’s possession of “national defense forces” in Article 9-2.
The opposition has also started to press hard on this point. In a BS Fuji program aired on Dec. 5, Nagatsuma stated: “Even if the SDF were to be stipulated with Paragraph 2 left untouched, this would not dispel arguments about the unconstitutionality of the SDF, and it will be impossible to convince constitutional scholars who consider the forces unconstitutional.”
If the SDF were to be stipulated in the Constitution, it can be said that the SDF has been made constitutional. But it is also very likely that arguments will be rehashed over whether the newly recognized SDF would be considered war potential.Speech