In the aftermath of World War II, Japan pledged to forever renounce war, writing into the Constitution a prohibition against maintaining any military forces or other war-making potential. In the post-9/ll era, however, members of the Japanese Parliament now say that an amendment allowing the formation of armed forces is both critical and inevitable.
The movement for a new constitution will not stop regardless of the party in power, says Shinji Tarutoko, a Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Representatives, equivalent to the U.S. Senate.
Speaking at a Washington conference Monday hosted by the Hudson Institute and Asian Forum Japan, Tarutoko emphasized that the Sept. 11 attacks and the new strategic environment had created a need to rethink defense and security policies.
Article 9, written in a post-war Japan under American occupation, has long been a matter for interpretation. The clause disallows war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means to settling international disputes. There is no mention, however of national defense.
During the Cold War, Japan armed itself with the Self-Defense Forces, which it argued were admissible under the constitution, and which international law establishes as a guaranteed right of any nation. Analysts have long since disputed whether such a force is in fact constitutional though most agree that the ambiguity in the wording of the clause has left it forever open to debate.
The Sept. 11 attacks brought the discussion into sharp focus. Japan's provision of Self Defense Forces to aid coalition troops in Iraq was seen by critics as stretching Article 9 to a breaking point. In 2002, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pushed through a set of anti-terrorism contingency measures that would give the government power to contribute to military operations in response to attacks on Japan or situations in areas surrounding Japan.
Critics contended that this legalized national preparation for war, arguably an offensive posture.
However, advocates from the Diet argue that Japan, in a changing world, is now forced to go beyond such outdated restraints. Hidenao Nakagawa, a House of Representatives member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee, stressed at the conference that even Japanese cooperation in international peacekeeping efforts is problematic without a revision of Article 9.
Japan is forced to formulate new strategies to promote peace and stability, said Nakagawa. Such measures, he added, would deepen the alliance between Japan and the United States and deal with the current systematic difficulties in providing assistance.
Koizumi told Kyodo News in June that it would be strange for Japanese forces not to be able to join with U.S. forces when they come under attack. Collective self-defense and international contributions must be straightened out and clarified in the constitution, he added.
A State Department official told United Press International Tuesday that the official U.S. position was that any change in the constitution is a sovereign matter for the Japanese people, and that the United States as an ally would respect that.
At the time of its conception, said Nakagawa, Article 9 was believed to be the route to an ideal peace. However, in recognition of the real world Japan now exists in, he continued, simply clinging to the article will lead that ideal to a dead letter.
The existing dissociation between Article 9 and the reality of the world has reached a critical point, he added.
Speaking of the ever-increasing threat from other North-East Asian countries, Nakagawa referred to a July report by the South Korean department of defense that North Korea is now producing missiles of 3,000-4000 kilometer range. The whole of Japan, he noted, is within that range.
Japan has unsatisfactory relations with China, Taiwan, Russia and North Korea, said Charles Horner, senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and former State Department official. The transformation in Japan's political environment has been largely brought about by the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of a nuclear-armed China, he said. Japan, he said, no longer has the luxury of time if it wishes to take an influential role in East Asian security.
The constitutional amendment would change the status of the SDF to a military force able to engage in war. Nakagawa was keen to stress, however, that the philosophy of pacifism embodied in the original constitution would remain.
The people of Japan forever renounce war of aggression and conquest, he said, pledging that military forces would not be used for such a purpose. However, it was only realistic, he added, to have a self-defense force that could participate fully in securing world peace.
Regarding the possibility of nuclear development, Tarutoko said that the government did not believe that the reforms would lead directly to the nuclear issue.
However, Nakagawa said that Japan would do its best, without violating the non-proliferation treaty, to strengthen its missile defenses as a deterrent against threats from other nuclear powers.
Koizumi has timetabled a draft proposal for the amendment for 2005. A final report by each party is due next week, and by the end of this year party platforms will be publicly declared. A bill would then need to be passed by a two-thirds majority, followed by a national referendum.
Nakagawa predicted there would be no major opposition to the amendment, though Yutaka Kobayashi, an LDP member of the House of Councilors, pointed out that only a minority of DPJ members -- who, after the July Councilors election, have an almost equal share of that House -- supports the move.
There are, he said, issues that must be resolved, particularly in terms of external relations. But he also emphasized the desperate need for Japan to become a realistic member of the world community in a new international environment.
Unless we accomplish such a bold ... reform, it may not be possible for Japan to survive, concluded Nakagawa.
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