Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday announced that despite public opposition the government of Japan was re-authorizing the military, marking a dramatic shift from the nation's decades-long pledge to pacifism.
In a meeting Tuesday, the government Cabinet approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, permitting Japan to now exercise the right to "collective self defense." The post-World War II document forbids the use of force in all cases except when the nation comes under direct attack, outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes, and disallows maintaining armed forces with war potential.
According to The Asahi Shimbun, the reinterpretation of the document broadens the definition of "individual self-defense" to include "the defense of allies," now allowing military force to be used on collective security operations sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.
By reinterpreting Article 9, rather than changing the document altogether, Abe avoids having to hold a national referendum on a constitutional change.
Ahead of the announcement, roughly 10,000 people protested outside the government offices in Tokyo on Monday, calling for Abe's resignation.
"Stop war. Stop Abe," they shouted while wielding placards and banging drums, the Associated Press reports. "Protect the Constitution!"
One demonstrator reportedly set himself on fire to protest the remilitarization.
"Can we really keep peace by sending young people to a distant battlefield?" protester Yoshiki Yamashita said during the demonstration, which carried on into Tuesday. Abe has cited China's military expansion and missile and nuclear threats from North Korea as the reason behind the reinterpretation.
As the Japan Times reports, the country is now permitted to come to the aid of an allied nation if:
The attack on that country poses a clear danger to Japan’s survival or could fundamentally overturn Japanese citizens’ constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
There is no other way of repelling the attack and protecting Japan and its citizens.
The use of force is limited to the minimum necessary.
The U.S. is expected to welcome their ally's turn away from pacifism. The U.S. has made repeated calls for Japan expand their security operations, the Japan Times reports, and the two countries are expected to "revise by the end of the year their guidelines for defense cooperation."