Article 9 of The Japanese Constitution - Debate


Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution not only forbids the use of force as a means to settling international disputes but also forbids Japan from maintaining an army, navy or air force. Therefore, in strictly legal terms, the Self Defense Forces are not land, sea or air forces, but are extensions of the national police force. This has had broad implications for foreign, security and defense policy. According to the Japanese government, “‘war potential’ in paragraph two means force exceeding a minimum level necessary for self-defense. Anything at or below that level does not constitute war potential.” Apparently when the SDF was created, “since the capability of the SDF was inadequate to sustain a modern war, it was not war potential.” Seemingly, the Japanese government has looked for loopholes in the wording of the peace clause and the “constitutionality of the Japanese military has been challenged numerous times.” Some Japanese people believe that Japan should be truly pacifist and claim that the SDF is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that it is within the nation’s right to have the capacity to defend itself. Scholars have also discussed “constitutional transformation… occurs when a constitutional provision has lost its effectiveness but has been replaced by a new meaning.” The Liberal Democratic Party has interpreted Article 9 as renouncing the use of warfare in international disputes but not the internal use of force for the purpose of maintaining law and order. The ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, tends to concur with the LDP's interpretation. At the same time, both parties have advocated the revision of Article 9 by adding an extra clause explicitly authorizing the use of force for the purpose of self-defense against aggression directed against the Japanese nation. The Japan Socialist Party, on the other hand, had considered the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) as unconstitutional and advocated the full implementation of Article 9 through the demilitarization of Japan. When the party joined with the LDP to form a coalition government, it reversed its position and recognized the JSDF as a structure that was constitutional. The Japanese Communist Party considers the JSDF unconstitutional and has called for reorganization of Japanese defense policy to feature an armed militia.

The interpretation of Article 9, has been determined that Japan cannot hold Offensive military weapons -- this has been interpreted to mean that Japan cannot have ICBMs, nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers or bomber fleets. This has not inhibited the deployment of submarines, AEGIS equipped destroyers, a helicopter carrier and fighter planes.

Since the late-1990s, Article 9 has been the central feature of a dispute over the ability of Japan to undertake multilateral military commitments overseas. During the late 1980s, increases in government appropriations for the JSDF averaged more than 5% per year. By 1990 Japan was ranked third, behind the then-Soviet Union and the United States, in total defense expenditures, and the United States urged Japan to assume a larger share of the burden of defense of the western Pacific. (Please note that Japan has a guideline of a limit of 1% of GDP on defense spending, however, Japan defines a number of activities as non-defense spending) Given these circumstances, some have viewed Article 9 as increasingly irrelevant. It has remained, however, an important brake on the growth of Japan's military capabilities. Despite the fading of bitter wartime memories, the general public, according to opinion polls, continued to show strong support for this constitutional provision.

The different views can be clearly organized into four categories: pacifists, mercantilists, normalists, and nationalists. The current pacifists believe in maintaining Article 9 and claim the SDF is unconstitutional, and would like to detach Japan from international wars. The mercantilists have divided opinions about Article 9 although the interpretation is broadened to include the SDF, and believe that the SDF’s role should be retained to activities related to the United Nations and for non-combat purposes. They advocate minimal defense spending, and emphasize economic growth. The normalists “call for incremental armament for national defense and accept using military force to maintain international peace and security”. They support the revision of Article 9 to include a clause explaining the existence and function of the SDF. The nationalists assert that Japan should remilitarize and build nuclear capabilities in order to regain pride and independence. They also advocate revision of Article 9 to promote armament. Evidently, opinions range from one extreme of pacifism, to the other extreme of nationalism and complete remilitarization. The majority of Japanese citizens approve the spirit of Article 9 and consider it personally important. But since the 1990s, there has been a shift away from a stance that would tolerate no alteration of the article to allowing a revision that would resolve the discord between the JSDF and Article 9. Additionally, quite a few citizens consider that Japan should allow itself to commit the Self-Defense Forces to collective defense efforts, like those agreed to on the UN Security Council in the Gulf War, for instance. Japan’s ability to “engage in collective defense” has been argued. The involvement of Japan in the Gulf War of 1990, or lack of involvement, has provoked significant criticism. Despite U.S. pressure on Japan to assist America in Iraq, Japan limited their involvement in the war to financial contribution primarily because of domestic opposition to the deployment of troops. As a result of the painfully ardent disapproval from the U.S. during the Gulf War, Japan was quick to act after the September 11 attacks in 2001. It was clear that “the September 11 attacks led to increased U.S. demands for Japanese security cooperation.” On October 29, 2001 the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law was passed, which “further broadened the definition of Japan’s self-defense.” The law allowed Japan to support the U.S. military on foreign territory. This law provoked “citizen groups file lawsuits against the Japanese government in order to stop the dispatch of SDF troops to Iraq and to confirm the unconstitutionality of such a dispatch,” though the troops sent to Iraq were not sent for combat but for humanitarian aid. Japan has actively built U.S.-Japan relations precisely because of Article 9 and Japan’s inability to engage in an offensive war. It has been debated that, “when declared support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq in March 2003, and when he sent Japanese forces to aid the occupation in January 2004, it was not Iraq that was in the Japanese sights so much as North Korea.” Japan’s unstable relations with North Korea, as well as other neighboring Asian countries has forced Japan to batter and bend Article 9 to “permit an increasingly expansive interpretation” of the constitution in the hopes of guaranteeing U.S. support in these relations.

In May 2007, the then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe marked the 60th anniversary of the Japanese Constitution by calling for a bold review of the document to allow the country to take a larger role in global security and foster a revival of national pride.

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