On July 21, 2013, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) achieved a decisive victory in an upper house election, making the party the dominant power in both lower and upper houses. As a result of this election, the ruling coalition is in an environment that is more conducive to their policies and thus amendments are more likely to get passed in both houses. Both Prime Minister Abe and Secretary-General of LDP Ishiba have the goal of amending Article 9 of the constitution, which states that “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.” This article is well known in the international community as having kept Japan away from armed conflicts since WWII.
The LDP is attempting to amend Article 9 and transform the current Self-Defense Force into the “national defense force.” In the LDP’s draft amendment plan, the national defense force should be able to exercise the right of collective self-defense. Considering recent unstable political situations in East Asia, including territorial disputes with China, Russia, and South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear threat, there is some rationale for strengthening national military capability to fight regional aggressors without a legal constraint. Moreover, Ishiba has proposed the establishment of the military tribunal, which would punish soldiers who refuse to comply with an order. Soldiers who disobey orders could be punished by the tribunal and, as Ishiba implied, be sentenced to the death penalty.
The exercise of collective self-defense is unlawful under the current constitution. However, this has been criticized as unfair because according to the US-Japan Security Treaty, the US as Japan’s ally should fight aggressors that attack Japan, whereas Japan cannot fight aggressors that attack the US due to the legal constraint. Once collective self-defense is permitted under Article 9, Japan can lawfully use armed force in a war the US fights based on the security treaty. Amendment of Article 9 would thus lead to reinforcing Japan’s fighting capability and making it a more equal ally to the US.
In order to amend Article 9, the LDP needs to make inroads by amending Article 96. The recent election will likely help the LDP amend Article 96 and, eventually, Article 9. Article 96 requires that a “vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House” and subsequently “a special referendum” in order to amend the constitution. PM Abe is thus seeking to lower the threshold of votes for a majority to just 51%, and although amendment is seemingly difficult, it could happen. Currently, more than half of the seats in each house are occupied by the LDP alone. If the LDP pressures other parties and secures two-thirds affirmative vote, a national referendum will be conducted. It might be naïve to argue that half of peace-loving Japanese citizens would vote for either amendment. But, by the time of referendum, they might be fully persuaded by the LDP into believing in the necessity of the amendment, particularly if they remain ignorant to what Abe and Ishiba are ultimately trying to accomplish–which is amendment of Article 9. On July 22, Ishiba stated that the LDP would hold strategic dialogues with citizens to seek support for the amendment. This is a well-planned first step for the revival of Japanese militarism.
Considering that Japan faces imminent threats in East Asia, including territorial disputes with China, Russia, and South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear threat, reinforcing military capability by establishing a national defense force would be rational. Also, Japan should no longer depend fully on the US as a safeguard. That being said, Japan’s increase in military capability would most likely exacerbate a regional security dilemma. In other words, security for Japan becomes insecurity for neighboring states, which eventually turns into insecurity for all. This could become an arms race among China, North and South Korea, and Russia and increase the cost of potential armed conflict. Additionally, enhancing military power will inevitably lead to increase in domestic taxes, which will create grievance among citizens. Moreover, if even a single Japanese soldier is killed in battlefield, the masses would soon lose confidence in the LDP, and the credibility of the party will be questioned, causing domestic instability. Furthermore, most importantly, the constitution amendment means betrayal of the determination of our grandparents not to repeat war and aspiration for peace. Thus, although amendment of Article 9 would seemingly improve security situation surrounding Japan, it will produce a number of undesirable consequences.
This article was originally published by Atlantic-Community.org. Yuki Yoshida is a graduate student studying peace-building and conflict resolution at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University. He recently published a paper entitled, “From Kosovo to Libya: Theoretical Assessment on Humanitarian Intervention and Responsibility to Protect (R2P).”
For additional reading on this topic please see:
Upper House Elections & Political Stability in Japan
Security Identity, Policymaking Regime and Japanese Security Policy Development