Today, I want to talk about one of the three basic principles of the Japanese Constitution: Pacifism.
The famous pacifist provision of Japan’s Constitution is stipulated as follows in Article 9:
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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.
In order to accomplish the aim of 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.”
There are three points in this Article: renunciation of war, renunciation of war potential, and rejection of belligerency.
Despite the renunciation of war potential, Japan maintains a de facto armed force referred to as the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF). The meaning and intent of Article 9 have been hotly debated ever since the 1950s, when Japan developed its own defense capability. The SDF, today, comprise around 250,000 ground, maritime, and air force personnel with Japan’s defense budget amounting to more than JPY5tn.
In July 2014, the Japanese government approved a reinterpretation of the Constitution, allowing the SDF to defend other allies in the case of war. This step has raised been controversial for “reinterpreting” the Constitution instead of “amending” it through the use of Article 96, gathering disapproval from mainland China and South Korea despite support from the United States. In September 2015, the reinterpretation was made official by the Japanese National Diet through the enactment of laws allowing the SDF to provide material support to allies engaged in international combat.
Much of the debate over the amendment of Article 9 has centered on three key arguments:
- The need to clarify the constitutionality of the SDF
- The need to explicitly affirm the right to self-defense
- The need to affirm military/non-military cooperation by Japan in international security efforts.
|Amendment necessary||Amendment unnecessary; new legislation needed||Neither amendment nor legislation necessary|
|Constitutionality of armed forces|
|Constitution should validate the role of the SDF||No need for change|
|Constitution should validate the role of a National Defense Force||Aim for dissolution of SDF in accordance with principles of Constitution|
|Right of self-defense (individual & collective)|
|Constitution should clarify Japan’s right to individual self-defense||Uphold Article 9 while allowing minimum use of force needed for self-defense|
|Constitution should clarify Japan’s right to participate in collective self-defense||Japan should not participate in collective self-defense|
|Japan-US Security Treaty, US base issues|
|Constitution should prohibit the stationing of foreign armed forces in Japanese territory||Japan-US Security Treaty should be abrogated in accordance with principles of Article 9|
|US-Japan Status of Forces agreement should be revised|
|International security cooperation|
|Constitution should provide for exclusively nonmilitary cooperation in international security efforts||Basic legislation needed to provide for exclusively nonmilitary cooperation in international security efforts||No need for change|
|Constitution should provide for military as well as nonmilitary cooperation in international security efforts||Basic legislation needed to provide for military cooperation (collective self-defense) as well as nonmilitary cooperation in international security efforts|
|Japan’s three non-nuclear principles and commitment to nuclear disarmament should be codified in the Constitution||Japan’s three non-nuclear principles should be made into law||No need for change|
Japan’s situation in the international geopolitical scheme has changed in recent years. On July 4, 2017, North Korea launched its first test of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), demonstrating its ability to reach mainland America with its missiles in the near future. This then brings up the following question: Will America protect Japan even at the risk of the lives of its own people? Put differently, will the U.S. strike at N. Korea when N. Korea strikes Japan if that would lead to a retaliation of N. Korea striking at the U.S.?
The question of Japan’s national security and defense has become one of the most important questions for Japan resulting from the recent ICBM test by N. Korea, putting the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. into question. Japan has established a national policy for three non-nuclear principles, which shuts out the possibility of nuclear deterrence. But will any country protect Japan with its nuclear weapons when Japan is attacked by N. Korea, if by doing so they would risk being struck back by N. Korea on their own soil?
Before Japan has no choice but to hold nuclear weapons of its own, it needs to make steadfast efforts to normalize relationships with N. Korea and work towards disarmament. Toward that end, it will need the cooperation of the U.S., China, and Russia. The situation is like a ticking bomb with a time limit of only several years until N. Korea poses a serious threat to Japan. Before it becomes too late, Japan will have to make further diplomatic efforts so that it doesn’t have to build up its own nuclear weapons.