The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the fourth installment of a series.
Speaking to a group of university students on Nov. 23, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba of the Liberal Democratic Party referred to the military coup d’etat that had just occurred in Zimbabwe.
“It’s something that can happen in any era. The Self-Defense Forces we have now would never do it, but we need laws to ensure that the military doesn’t have its way with the government,” Ishiba said.
He was talking about civilian control that ensures the superiority of the government over the military.
“A military is the biggest, strongest armed group in its country. There is no country in the world other than Japan that has a defense ministry and self-defense forces incorporated into its government. There is no other explanation than that we have turned our eyes away from the common sense of the world, and the nature of a military,” Ishiba said.
Many countries have civilian control incorporated into their constitutions, such as Germany, which prescribes in detail how its Congress controls the military. Japan’s Constitution, conversely, states only that “The prime minister and other ministers of state must be civilians” in Article 66 of the Constitution. It never needed a detailed system to control the military since Article 9 of the Constitution clearly states that Japan does not possess “war potential.”
A draft of constitutional amendments that the LDP compiled in 2005 clearly delineated the prime minister’s right to command, saying Japan “maintains self-defense forces under the supreme command of the prime minister of the Cabinet,” and expressly stated that the Diet also had control over those forces, saying their activities “must gain the approval of the Diet and abide by other controls.”
The clause regarding the “national defense force” in the amendment drafted by the LDP in 2012 also used the same wording.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also serves as LDP president, stated in an online video on Oct. 7 last year, “We will clearly stipulate civilian control [in the revised Constitution],” underlining the necessity of doing so. International political scientist Lully Miura said, “Only once there is an accepted idea that the Diet strictly monitors the Self-Defense Forces will there be any progress in reaching an agreement between the ruling and opposing parties.”
Abe’s draft: A smoldering issue
Abe put forth a proposed draft that would preserve Paragraph 1 and 2 of Article 9 while adding constitutional grounds for the Self-Defense Forces because he apparently judged that he could earn the people’s understanding more easily if he preserves the principle of Article 9. However, because he narrowed the scope of his amendments to the “minimal amount necessary,” it appeared that he squashed numerous points that had been debated up until then.
This was met with discontent from members of the LDP, particularly those pushing to amend the Constitution. At the Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution on June 21, there was a chorus of debate over Article 9.
Comments included: “There’s the issue of how much we write about our contributions to the international community. If we also write about civilian control, one paragraph isn’t enough” and “We need to put in writing that the Self-Defense Forces are comprised entirely of volunteers because Japan doesn’t have a military draft system.”
There is strong opinion within the LDP that Japan should amend Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which states that “The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” The right of belligerency refers to internationally recognized rights that are exercised during the conduct of a war. These include things like destroying an enemy nation’s military facilities, and inspecting ships.
There is also the opinion that a “military court” should be established that will try military personnel who have broken the law. Article 76 of the Constitution prohibits the establishment of special courts, but there are more than a few people who voice concerns over whether the current justice system has the ability to try the actions of SDF personnel during wartime.
Abe’s plan to stipulate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution has opened a Pandora’s box of arguments surrounding it. However, trying to incorporate all of these opinions would only set the Diet further back from going through with amending the Constitution. Commit to a policy of logical reasoning, or choose the path that makes amending the Constitution more readily feasible — the time is drawing nearer for Abe to decide.Speech