May 03, 2014
EDITORIAL: Abe taking pacifist Constitution away from the people
Japan’s Constitution cannot be revised with a simple majority vote in the Diet.
Any constitutional amendment must first be initiated through a vote of two-thirds or more of all members of each house in the Diet and then approved by the public with a majority vote in a special referendum. This procedure is stipulated in Article 96 of the Constitution.
Last spring, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began a political campaign to make it easier to rewrite the Constitution by easing this procedure, but later gave up the idea.
Abe’s attempt was foiled by opposition expressed by many Japanese who became aware of its dangerous implications. They realized that if the government is allowed to change the Constitution at will, the all-important principles of constitutionalism, which restrict the power of government, would be violated.
Abe is now seeking to tamper with the supreme law in a different way.
Instead of pursuing a change in a constitutional provision, the prime minister is working to enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense through a Cabinet decision to change the government’s interpretation of the Constitution regarding the issue. The government’s traditional position has been that Japan has the right to collective self-defense, but is banned by the Constitution from exercising that right.
This way, even a Diet vote is not needed to make the policy change, which raises some serious constitutional questions.
What would be the consequences of that step? The pacifist ideal of the Constitution would lose its spirit even if it remains alive in form.
COLLECTIVE SELF-DEFENSE MEANS DEFENDING ALLIES
Some policymakers within the government have proposed to make it clear that Japan’s exercise of its right to collective self-defense would be limited to the minimum necessary–only in areas surrounding Japan and in situations where it is needed to ensure the nation’s existence.
They argue that the 1959 Supreme Court ruling over the so-called Sunagawa Incident, which concerned the constitutionality of the presence of U.S. forces in Japan, didn’t ban Japan from using its right to collective self-defense. The ruling actually said, “It is indisputable that, as an act of exercising its proper powers as a nation, Japan is allowed to take self-defense measures that are necessary for maintaining its own peace and security and ensuring its existence.”
These policymakers are making the case for allowing Japan limited use of its right to collective self-defense.
One example often cited in this argument is a situation in which a U.S. warship comes under attack in waters near Japan. Abe and other proponents of the proposal ask whether it is acceptable that the Self-Defense Forces are not allowed to come to rescue when a U.S. naval vessel operating to defend Japan comes under attack. They warn that the SDF’s failure to help a U.S. ship in such a situation would mean an end to Japan’s security alliance with the United States.
But many people in and outside the government believe the SDF can respond to such cases as part of Japan’s exercise of its right to individual self-defense or its police authority.
In other words, this problem can be solved without treating it as the constitutional issue of collective self-defense. There is no need to use a distorted interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling over the Sunagawa Incident, which only acknowledged Japan’s right to individual self-defense, as a tool to promote the case for collective self-defense.
A decision to allow Japan to use its right to collective self-defense, even if the use is limited to the minimum necessary, would amount to a total about-face on the traditional security policy.
Collective self-defense, by nature, involves the defense of other countries. But a small leak can eventually sink a great ship.
It is difficult to impose an effective restriction on Japan’s use of its military power that is clearer than the current rule that Japan can only use armed force when it is directly attacked.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s draft proposal to revise the Constitution calls for making the SDF full-fledged national defense forces that can take part in collective self-defense operations.
What the Abe administration is trying to achieve is realizing this proposal without making an amendment to the Constitution through the established formal procedure.
The administration is making an outrageous attempt to push through an effective constitutional amendment based on a government proposal merely through discussions within the ruling camp.
Why is the Abe administration getting away with such unacceptable behavior?
NO EFFECTIVE CHECKS ON GOVERNMENT BY LEGISLATURE
The most obvious factor behind this distressing political landscape is the inability of the Diet to do its job properly. It is failing to perform its role of clarifying important policy issues through discussions in order to provoke meaningful public debate.
Abe has been making little effort to offer serious answers to questions from opposition parties in the Diet, and the wretchedly weakened opposition has been letting him get away with it.
Some LDP lawmakers who initially voiced skepticism about Abe’s initiative have quickly become extremely quiet, apparently after the prime minister started signaling the possibility of a Cabinet and party leadership reshuffle.
The nation’s legislature is totally impotent to monitor and check the behavior of the administration in any effective way to prevent its dangerous moves.
What would happen if, to top it all, the constitutional restriction on Japan’s use of its military capabilities is removed?
Japan has been following U.S. military policy. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to foresee the scope of SDF operations expanding beyond the “minimum necessary” under pressure from Washington.
In 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi supported U.S. President George W. Bush’s decision to declare war on Iraq and, in response to a U.S. request, sent SDF troops to the Middle East to support reconstruction efforts.
Koizumi justified his decisions simply by repeating that supporting the United States was in Japan’s best interest. The Koizumi administration showed no signs of making objective, cool-headed assessments of the situation.
Abe has established the National Security Council. But the minutes of its meetings have not been published, and the newly enacted state secrets protection law is likely to allow the government to keep the public in the dark about the process of making policy decisions to mobilize the SDF.
Under these circumstances, would the government be able to make the right decision should it be asked to send SDF troops to battlefields of another U.S.-led war? Would the Diet and the public be able to stop such a deployment of the SDF?
DON’T TAKE CONSTITUTION FROM THE PEOPLE
Some administration officials are saying the government should try to win the support of as many members of the public as possible for the initiative, which would allow the government to mobilize SDF troops for participation in collective self-defense operations.
If the government insists on making it possible for Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense, there is only one path it should take.
It should present a draft amendment to the Constitution to take the step and follow the formal procedure–initiating the amendment through a vote of a two-thirds majority in each house of the Diet and then getting it approved by the people with a majority vote at a special referendum.
To be fair, the security situation in East Asia is certainly becoming dangerous due to North Korea’s development of nuclear arms and China’s aggressive military buildup. We can understand that the government is pursuing this initiative out of a desire to ensure Japan’s security.
If so, the government should first start debate on legislative moves needed to deal with specific issues, instead of immediately touching the Constitution.
Even if the government’s proposal is reasonable from the viewpoints of policy and military needs, that doesn’t justify distorting key constitutional principles through a change in the government’s interpretation of them.
The way the Abe administration is pursuing this controversial initiative is totally inconsistent with the prime minister’s pledge to put the Constitution back in the hands of the people. Instead, it is tantamount to taking the Constitution away from the public.
–The Asahi Shimbun, May 3