On July 21, the ruling coalition consisting of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komei party collectively won more than 70 seats, making them become a dominant power in both lower and upper houses. However, I was scared of smiles of both Prime Minister Abe and Secretary-General of LDP Ishiba during the interview because one of their main goals is to amend Article 9 of the constitution, and as a result of this election, the ruling coalition succeeded in creating a better environment conducive for their policies to get passed at both houses. Article 9 states, “…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.” The article is well known in the international community and has kept Japan away from armed conflicts since WWII.
It is, however, the LDP that has attempted to amend Article 9 and transform the current form of the Self-Defense Force to the “National Defense Force.” In the LDP’s draft amendment plan, the national defense force should be able to exercise the right of individual or collective self-defense, which is not granted in the constitution. Considering recent unstable political situations in East Asia, including territorial disputes with China, Russia, and South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear threat, it is rational to strengthen national military capability to fight regional aggressors without a legal constraint.
If the right of collective self-defense is permitted, Japan as a US ally of the security treaty can participate in a war the US fights. In the war, the national defense forces will be mobilized, and life of Japanese soldiers could be threatened. Because Japan participates in such wars, Japanese territory could also be a battlefield. Moreover, Ishiba has proposed the establishment of the military tribunal. The LDP’s draft constitution amendment stipulates the establishment of the military tribunal to punish soldiers who refuse to comply with the order. Such military tribunal is unlawful under the constitution. However, by amending it, the order becomes absolute, meaning that, if a soldier were against the order, he would be punished at the tribunal and, as Ishiba implied, could be sentenced to death penalty.
Under the current constitution, constitution amendment plan needs two-third affirmative vote in both houses (the LDP has tried to change it to half) and more than half of affirmative vote on national referendum. Although amendment is seemingly difficult, it could happen. As a result of this election, more than half of the seats in both houses are occupied by the ruling coalition. If the LDP successfully changed the rule of two-third affirmative vote to the half, and most of ruling coalition politicians voted for the amendment, the decision will be then up to national referendum. It is questionable that half of the peace-loving Japanese citizens vote for the amendment. But, by the time of referendum, they might be fully brainwashed in a way that they realized the necessity of the amendment if they remain indifferent about what Abe and Ishiba are trying to accomplish. On the 22nd, Ishiba stated that the LDP would hold strategic dialogues with citizens to seek support for the constitution amendment. He has already taken the first step for the revival of Japanese militarism.
It is imperative to recognize that Japan has faced imminent threats in the region, and reinforcing military capability is understandable. However, Japan’s increase in military capacity will most likely exacerbate regional security dilemma. It might lead to arms race among China, North and South Korea, and Russia and increase the cost of potential war. Additionally, enhancing military power could lead to increase in domestic taxes, which will create grievance among citizens. Moreover, if even a single Japanese soldier in a battlefield is killed, the masses would not be silent, and the credibility of the LDP will be questioned, which will cause domestic instability. Furthermore, the constitution amendment means betrayal of the strong determination of our grandparents not to repeat war and aspiration for peace. For reasons above, the amendment of Article 9 would result in producing a number of undesirable consequences.
* Yuki Yoshida is a graduate student studying peacebuilding and conflict resolution at Center for Global Affairs, New York University. His research interests include peacemaking, post-conflict peacebuilding, democratic governance, humanitarian intervention, and responsibility to protect. He recently published his paper entitled, “From Kosovo to Libya: Theoretical Assessment on Humanitarian Intervention and Responsibility to Protect (R2P).” He obtained his BA in Liberal Arts from Soka University of America in 2012.