CAN LDP MANAGE TO CONSOLIDATE PROPOSALS FOR REVISION OF ARTICLE 9 OF JAPAN’S PACIFIST CONSTITUTION?
On February 28, about 150 members of the two houses of the Diet thronged to the main auditorium at the headquarters of the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) to attend a plenary session of a panel considering a revision of the constitution. Ordinarily, seats can be found easily even if one barely makes it on time. On this day, however, the members had to come about 30 minutes ahead of schedule in order to secure their seats, according to LDP upper house member Shigeharu Aoyama.
Some 120 of them had previously submitted revision proposals, which the panel’s secretariat broadly divided into three categories for debate:1) A proposal by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that there be a third paragraph written into Article 9 of the constitution, clarifying the functions and legal status of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), while retaining the two original paragraphs; 2) A proposal similar to Abe’s, made by Aoyama and others, calling for the new paragraph to refer to “Japan’s right to self-defense” instead of “the JSDF”; and 3) A proposal by LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba that the two existing paragraphs be deleted altogether in order to add a new paragraph defining the scope of Japan’s military potential.
(Editor’s note: Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, written and promulgated by the American occupation authorities on May 3, 1947, states:
1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the people of Japan forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes; and
2) In order to accomplish the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.)
Based on these proposals, 19 LDP lawmakers stated their opinions, with another
approximately 40 attendees seeking to speak, but the session ran out of time. The panel is now scheduling another session in two weeks, with plans to submit a joint proposal in some form to the general LDP assembly slated for March 25. Aoyama, whom I invited as a guest to my weekly “Genron” Internet television news show on March 2, had this to say about the session he attended:
“I didn’t know much about Hiroyuki Hosoda, who heads the panel, but he struck me as an amazing person. In spite of his mild personality, he was not afraid of grappling squarely with Ishiba in front of everyone. I was also deeply touched by the vigor with which he is forging ahead to implement this badly needed constitutional revision.
“It has been a year and a half since I unexpectedly was elected an LDP member. I have been pleasantly surprised at how readily LDP members treat each other as equals— freshmen and veterans alike—and how openly, naturally, and earnestly they discuss the proposed revision of Article 9.”
Since last May 3, when Abe made the afore-mentioned proposal as LDP President, discussions on a constitutional revision have moved forward slowly. Aoyama noted that the front row of the auditorium was occupied by “big shots,” including Hosoda, who are commonly referred to as “the inner circle.”
Aoyama said the inner circle members had their own meeting preceding the plenary session, noting that he heard that there was “also a fierce battle among them.”
It may be that the deliberations on the revision within the LDP are perhaps far more intense than was thought.
Pulling Together the Needed Votes Will Not Be Easy
Of the three categories of proposals, Ishiba’s is the one most at odd with Abe’s. Explained Aoyama:
“Those of us advocating a revision, including the prime minister and myself, do not refute Ishiba’s assertion that a wholesale revision of Article 9 would best be implemented by eliminating the two paragraphs altogether.
“But the government has been unable to alter even a word of the constitution the past 70-odd years. As politicians, we must produce results, but not one millimeter of progress is possible if the same old ideological assertions are repeated time and again.”
Because Ishiba presumably understands that, he has told the press that if Abe’s proposal is approved, he will be ready to abide by it as the ultimate party policy.
With the international situation fiercer than ever today, politicians must by all means be in the vanguard of protecting the people and the territory of our country. For that purpose, a constitutional revision is mandatory.
In order to bring a bill to the floor, the coalition government of the LDP and Komeito Party must secure a two-thirds majority of the seats in both chambers of the Diet. But this will not be an easy task. Explains Aoyama:
“The ruling parties have only two seats more than a two-thirds majority in the Lower House, but the situation is not in their favor in the Upper House, in which a majority would be 162 seats. There, we have only 150 seats between the LDP and Komeito—125 for the former, and 25 for the latter.
“Even if we manage to win the 11 seats held by Ishin-no-Kai, which also advocates a revision, we will still be one seat short. We may be able to get the support of some independent Diet members, but securing the needed two-thirds in the Upper House will not come easy.”
It is extremely important for the ruling coalition to secure far wider support. They will have to call on all of their practical political skills to even bring a bill to the floor unless they can somehow manage to obtain additional support from other parties, on top of securing the full-fledged backing of Komeito, the junior coalition partner.
Aoyama himself has submitted his own proposal, but professed that he views it as a springboard for further discussions. He is willing to wholeheartedly support whatever consensus may develop. Aoyama knows cooperation among like-minded parties is mandatory under the tough current political circumstances.
Let us take a closer look at the relationship between paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9 and the JSDF. The government’s view on Article 9 is that, because Japan is a sovereign nation, the article does not deny it the inherent right of self-defense or the maintenance of the JSDF as an armed organization. The government has plainly declared that the constitution allows Japan to “possess the minimum level of self-defense capability.”
Meanwhile, paragraph 2 states that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” In order to enable the JSDF to exercise the right to self-defense while meeting these constitutional restrictions, the government has positioned the JSDF not as a “fighting force” but as an “armed organization.”
1,800 JSDF Personnel Have Perished in the Line of Duty
But to define the JSDF not as a “fighting force” but a mere “armed organization” smacks of selling a bill of goods no matter how one may try to interpret it. Reflected in the warped mirror of the Japanese constitution, what would be understandable and normal in almost any other country becomes twisted into a new and baffling logic in Japan. Fallacious thinking can hardly create a good working environment for the members of the JSDF. In point of fact, our constitution imposes major restrictions on the men and women who daily are putting their lives in danger in order to protect us.
These restrictions would hurt if, for instance, signs were detected of approaching the Senkaku Islands with the intention of landing troops. China, which has over the years vigorously scrutinized our constitution and other laws, is well versed in the long-running debates we Japanese have had at home as regards our national security. In such an instance, they would likely choose tactics designed to make it constitutionally difficult for Japan to respond.
From the outside, Chinese Cost Guard ships look different from those of the regular Chinese navy. The JSDF is prohibited from touching non-military foreign vessels violating Japanese territorial waters, so the government would be unable to order the JSDF out to prevent a landing on the Senkakus. In other words, the government could not mobilize the JSDF to defend the islands because a defensive mobilization is permissible only when an organized armed attack—an all-out war to be more precise—or danger of such aggression is clearly recognizable.
In sum, the JSDF cannot exercise Japan’s right to self-defense unless the imminent danger of war is obvious to everyone.
If that is the case, what measures can Japan realistically take to counter the landing of troops from Chinese Coast Guard ships? Maritime security operations is the answer—an action that is based on domestic police law. But this is possible as an act of legitimate self-defense only after being attacked. The use of weapons is severely restricted.
Under such constraints, the men and women of the JSDF perform national defense missions daily, protecting the Senkakus and the waters around them, scrambling fighter jets to intercept intruding aircraft from China and Russia, and being the first to respond to assist the injured and displaced whenever a major disaster strikes.
A total of nearly 1,800 JSDF members have perished in the line of duty to date. In order to show our gesture of thanks to them and their families, I think it crucially important to add a new paragraph to Article 9 to formally validate the existence of the JSDF as a legitimate bearer of Japan’s right to self-defense.
I am well aware of the sentiment that such measures are not enough. However, in a democracy such as Japan, a more drastic revision would be premature—until the consensus-based will of the people calls for it. We should earnestly bear in mind that after all it is we the people who determine what type of democracy we want Japan to be.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 794 in the March 15, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)