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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced his plans in attempting to change Japan’s pacifist constitution, saying he hopes revisions will take place by 2020.
Abe hopes to amend the pacifist constitution that has been in place since enacted by American occupiers after World War II. The constitution was enacted in reflection of Japan’s devastating involvement in the war. His statement was announced at a gathering marking the 70th anniversary of the constitution. He hopes the revision will acknowledge Japan’s army as constitutional. “We should eliminate room for discussions suspecting the SDF (Japan’s army) is unconstitutional” said Abe.
Abe specifically states that he intends to amend or remove Article 9 of the constitution. Article 9 stipulates that Japan forever renounces its right to wage war and disallowed the maintenance of a military. The constitution is a source of pride for many Japanese and the clauses entrenched in it represent a cherished part of the nation’s post-war identity. Previous calls to alter Article 9 have been met with much skepticism, both within Japan and by neighbouring countries such as China and South Korea. Since its original write up, the constitution has been interpreted by successive governments as allowing the use of military exclusively for self-defense reasons. Indeed, Japanese troops have taken part in peacekeeping missions and non-violent reconstruction efforts such as in Iraq. Abe, however, has already made alterations to the understanding of the constitution. Two years ago, Abe pushed for a broader interpretation of the constitution that allows the use of Japanese troops abroad in the name of ‘collective self-defense.’ Despite this, and with knowledge of political sensitivity on the issue, Abe maintained that Japan “must hold fast to the idea of pacifism.”
Abe’s move is likely in response to the growing threat from North Korea which flaunts its military strength and nuclear capabilities. The Trump administration’s new approach to the Korea issue marks a shift from the more pacifist approach of Obama, and maintains that conflict is “not off the table.” With escalating tensions in the region, Japan which is a close ally of the USA and lies within the missile radius of North Korea is potentially vulnerable.
A potential shift away from its constitution would not be welcomed news for those who believe in non-violence. Understandably, the move would be equally unwelcomed by the public and neighbouring countries. However, it can be noted that Japan’s model pacifist state is a source of pride for many Japanese and an aspirational constitution for many others. Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo said that Abe and his cabinet “are aware that Article 9 is very popular, and revising Article 9 is going to be alarming to many countries around them.” A public survey last week found that 82% or respondents were “proud of the current Constitution that advocates pacifism.”
Thus, it seems politically unlikely that any drastic reforms will be made to the constitution, especially if they must be approved via referendum. However, with the increasing threat in the region, there is a danger of both a political and public shift in opinion. This constitutional reform could be absolutely detrimental to global efforts in maintaining peace and peaceful conflict resolution.