Earlier in May, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited regional security concerns as one reason to revise the country’s war-constitution. He spoke at a rally on Constitution Memorial day, the national holiday marking the 70th anniversary of the US-drafted and imposed document that has shaped Japan’s domestic and international politics since 1947. He hopes to effect this change by 2020, when the Olympic Summer Games will be held in Tokyo.
In 2015, when changes were made to Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) by laws passed permitting the force to fight overseas for the first time since the second world war, there were reports of 100,000 protesters in the streets outside Japan’s parliament (above). An estimated 25,000 people also gathered at the Shibuya crossing in central Tokyo. The most recent polls on the issue, conducted by Nikkei, showed 46% against change versus 45%.
Will Japanese forces ever conduct the types of operations that the United States undertakes in the Middle East?
Defenders of the post-war constitution cite the positive role Article 9 has played in ensuring 70 years of peace and increasing prosperity since the end of World War II. Yuki Tatsumi, a senior associate and director of the Japan program at the Stimson Centre in Washington DC says that ‘red line’ is whether to allow the JSDF to conduct the types of operations that the United States undertakes in the Middle East, which may require them to use force. “Japanese people have been proud that their defence forces have not had to fire a shot to kill the citizens of other countries up to this point, even with their participation in UN peacekeeping operations,” she said
“I think they would very much like to continue to keep it that way.”
The editor of Japan’s Asahi Shimbun emphasises that Article 9 in no way bans the government from using armed force to protect the lives and freedom of its people from foreign attacks, which is its most important responsibility, according to the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution.
He stresses due process: in the first place a formal debate on an amendment to the Constitution should have been held at the Commissions on the Constitution in both houses of the Diet and ends, after hearing Shinzo Abe’s announcement:
“We cannot support his proposal, which could fundamentally change Japan’s identity as a pacifist nation”.