With a landslide victory in the Japanese re-election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reinvigorated his efforts in pushing for reform of Japan’s pacifist constitution. The revision of Article 9, a long held political mission of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), calls for more military flexibility, which allegedly may serve as a deterrence to North Korea’s provocations. Yet, the future of the nation’s pacifist constitution blows a powerful political typhoon across the Japanese public—as well as neighboring nations that are in favor of Japan’s postwar pacifism.
If initiated, the amendment of the charter would bring radical changes to traditional Japanese values. Imposed by the Allies after World War II, Article 9 essentially bans the maintenance of Japanese armed forces, strictly restricting the use of land, air, and naval forces to defensive purposes. By itself, the pacifist policy remains deeply entrenched in the grip of Japan’s wartime trauma. To supporters, this is seen as a foundation of a post-war democracy, but to many conservatives, it is nothing more than a disgraceful reminder of Japan’s defeat in 1945.
For Abe, amending the article would equal the restoration of these traditional values, which would emphasize obligations to the state over individual rights. According to his perspective, revising the charter to guarantee Japan’s right to have a military would not only affirm its currently ambiguous status quo, but also allow the nation to maintain regional and global security. In addition to reinforcing Japan’s defense against militaristic threats, Abe has claimed that war-renouncing clauses would be maintained, preserving the peace with other nations.
Such a one-sided approach, further justified by North Korea’s continuous torrent of nuclear threats, undeniably portrays matters in a promising light. However, deeper implications to the revision must be considered when assessing its values. Of course, there is little doubt that the reinterpretation would significantly bolster security measures. Despite these benefits, however, the constitutional changes may also mark a step of regression towards the Japanese militarism that demolished armed forces during World War II.
In truth, this is exemplified by numerous reports from the NY Times that Japan has continued the blatant violation of its own constitution for decades. Equipped with 300,000 troops and the eighth largest military budget in the world, Japan has clearly breached its “pacifist” policies—all in the name of self-defense. Such infractions not only cast doubt upon Abe’s stance on strengthening security, but go on to demonstrate that the official militarization of Japan may pose a threat to bordering nations.
Additionally, nothing comes without a price. The LDP has maintained that unrestricted freedom to deploy military troops would allow the forces to assist allies when needed. However, such measures may contain underlying motives. By gaining the ability to provide military assistance to other countries, Japan may also be securing its position to demand returns for its support—whether it be in the form of land, financial transactions, or political assets.
Japan’s motives for constitutional changes are further questioned with the impression that Abe himself creates. By visiting the Yasakuni shrine, where war criminals are worshipped, and stubbornly refusing to apologize for inciting global warfare, the prime minister fails to accept responsibility for atrocities of the past. By turning a blind eye to its crimes, Japan denies itself of its freedom to become a normal power. In essence, it seems that unless the nation decides to come to terms with its history, foreign support for constitutional change is yet to be expressed.
Certainly, this is not to say that Japan’s tainted history should forever impede itself from any entitlements. Just like any other nation, Japan has a right to defend itself. But when this right is used as a justification to restructure a policy that has shaped a nation’s postwar history for 70 years, such an action may warrant attentive criticism from the public. As with such, uprooting the very core of Japan’s foreign policy may be a bold step—one that is apt to reopen wounds if not taken with caution.
Facing such deliberations for constitutional change, Japan now stands at a crossroad. But with much local opposition and criticism from abroad, perhaps adhering to its original pursuit of pacifism is the better path to take.