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By Tim Hornyak

Article of faith

Whither the “Peace Constitution” in the land of the rising gun?

In the cold light of realpolitik, symbols have little value. Pragmatism reigns in the minds of politicians, think-tank wonks and academics who see Japan’s struggle over whether to revise its Constitution as a process by which it will finally become a “normal” country. That is, a good soldier that can fully wage war under its military alliances and security commitments.

Tim Hornyak is a freelance journalist and news editor based in Tokyo

What makes Japan “abnormal” in their eyes is the centerpiece of its Constitution, promulgated in 1946 after drafting by the US Occupation Forces and never amended. Article 9 states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation... land, sea, and air forces as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” That pacifist pledge, a keystone in Occupation policymakers’ crusade to “demilitarize and democratize” Japan following its depredations and conquests in World War II, remains unique among developed nations. (Costa Rica is another state that has constitutionally abolished its army.)

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi aims to jettison or overhaul Article 9 so Japan can openly exercise its right to collective self-defense, which the UN Charter guarantees to all member states. He wants cooperation between the US military and the 50-year-old Self-Defense Forces—a ¥4.903 trillion war machine that Japan’s Supreme Court has refused to recognize as either unconstitutional or constitutional—to be sanctified by higher laws. Meanwhile, US officials like Secretary of State Colin Powell have brazenly told Tokyo that Article 9, which their own predecessors first wrote, is either hampering the Japan-US military alliance or blocking Japan’s bid to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, something the government has sought as a reward for its UN funding.

The cynicism of Powell and his ilk is startling when one recalls that the United Nations and its Security Council were established to promote peace. Recommending Article 9 be swapped for a UNSC seat is like telling a manufacturer it should scrap its clean emissions policy to help the environment. In the long view, however, the United States is simply continuing its efforts to remilitarize Japan (a process that began with the Cold War birth of the SDF) for strategic imperatives in an age of global terrorism and preemptive strikes.

Japan has already agreed to participate in the US missile defense system, it has abetted the US occupation of Iraq by deploying troops there, and, in the past, it shared data on Soviet sub activity. The massive SDF is real, as is Japan’s defense cooperation with the US. Changing the Constitution to reflect that would, in a sense, be a formality, but it would also remove an important brake on the growth of Japan’s military capabilities.

In junking a symbol, Japan should consider what it will lose. As a major nation abandoning its pledge to forever renounce war, it will be sending the wrong signal to Asian neighbors who worry about creeping remilitarization by their former overlord. Whatever goodwill Japan enjoys among them—goodwill that exists despite Koizumi’s repeated trips to Yasukuni Shrine to honor the Empire’s dictators and foot soldiers—will be further compromised. Japan will also be deep-sixing a powerful international sign of peace that is far ahead of its time.

The heart of the problem is how the government has chosen to interpret Article 9. The UN Charter’s Article 51 gives Japan the right to defend allies under attack, but Tokyo’s 1957 Basic Policy for National Defense prohibits the country from exercising that right. Similarly, the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the United States does not compel Japan to defend the US in an attack. The government thus believes Japan has the right to collective defense but cannot exercise it under the Constitution, a position some legal scholars call inconsistent. A Foreign Ministry advisory panel agreed last fall.

It’s also useful to consider the environment in which Article 9 was crafted. Even after Japanese lawmakers made their own amendments to the GHQ-drafted provision, disagreement by politicians over its meaning continued. Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida said Article 9 meant Japan could never take up arms under any circumstance, even to save itself. But Hitoshi Ashida, chair of the House of Representatives subcommittee on constitutional revision, was involved in producing the final wording of the article and publicly declared that Article 9 “is meant to apply to wars of aggression,” not self-defense.

Japan should reflect on this and weigh its legitimate defense needs in today’s fluid security environment against the fervent desire of most Japanese to preserve their country’s commitment to pacifism. Article 9, supported by some 60 percent of Japanese in recent polls, is the basis of that commitment, and Japan’s leaders should continue to use it as a guide to security policy. Public discussion should focus on how the government has interpreted Article 9 and how it has unilaterally loosened that interpretation by sending peacekeeping and other military forces abroad, before hawks in and outside Japan hijack the debate and turn it into a question of what to rip out of the Constitution.

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