Prime Minister Abe seems to govern Japan according to the country’s national slogan during the Meiji Era: Fukoku Kyohei or “Enrich the country; Strengthen the army”. Indeed, since his return to power in December 2012, his two priorities have been to redress the country's economy through his so-called Abenomics, as well as "to reclaim Japanese sovereignty" by getting rid of the current constitution, which, in his opinion, fails “to provide a necessary condition for an independent nation”.
Japan’s constitution was adopted following World War II to replace the 1889 constitution of the Empire of Japan. Drafted by senior U.S. military officers under MacArthur’s Allied Occupation Forces, the post-war constitution was adopted by the Japanese House of Representatives and approved by the Emperor in 1946, and entered into force in 1947.
In 1945, the victorious Allied Powers had demanded Japan's unconditional surrender through the Potsdam Declaration. Put to fire and sword by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and devastated by massive aerial bombings of the country, Japan accepted its wrongness for the war of aggression.
It is in this context that Article 9 was legislated, reportedly at the suggestion of then Prime Minister Shidehara, as the most effective way to guarantee that Japan would never again wage war.
Article 9 is the famous peace clause, which renounces war as a means of settling international disputes and prohibits the maintenance of armed forces and other war potential. It’s not only a provision of the Japanese law. It also acts as a regional and international peace mechanism that has served as the foundation for collective security for the entire Asia Pacific region.
If Japanese public opinion has generally embraced Japan’s status as a peaceful nation, conservatives and nationalists have repeatedly attempted to revise the country’s constitution, which they consider as a foreign imposition. To date, without success.
Today, several parties, notably Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party founded by former Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, and other nationalist platforms, have made their intention clear to make constitutional revision a priority for this upcoming legislative election.
They have publicly announced that if they obtain a majority – and they are in a good posture to get it – they will push for amendment of Article 96 of the constitution (to ease procedural requirements for constitutional revision) as a first step towards further constitutional changes. But it isn’t a secret for anybody: one of their priorities is to amend war-renouncing Article 9 and seek to allow Japan to exercise collective military action.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a key figure of Japan’s ideological conservative right, has long been a strong advocate of amending the constitution. His track record in that area includes a series of decisions aimed at curtailing the scope of Japan’s peace clause, partly due to the U.S. demand for full-fledged military support in its “war on terror” and U.S. strategic re-positioning in the Pacific, as well as under pressure by the military industrial complex that sees great potential in arms development and trade.
Back in power, Abe is determined to push his agenda forward. One of his first moves has been to order the bolstering of the country’s military and announce an increase of 40 billion yen ($440 million) in defense spending – the first increase in 11 years. He has also made clear that he intends to revise defense guidelines with the U.S., which would like to incorporate Japan’s SDF into the its global military strategy, and turn Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) into a full-fledged national army.
In the current context of regional tensions, notably with China regarding sovereignty over East China Sea islets (Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands), with South Korea (over Dokdo/Takeshima Island) and with North Korea over its nuclear program, the debate over amending Article 9 threatens to destabilize the fragile regional peace.
A series of recent controversial statements and actions by Japanese top officials are pouring oil on the fire. These include revisionist remarks regarding ‘comfort women’ forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s Imperial Army during WWII as being “necessary”; questioning that Japan’s wartime actions should be considered an “aggression” and official visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine (the Shinto shrine that commemorates those who died in service of the Empire of Japan, including 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals).
If these actions come as a response to the perceived rising threats from China and North Korea, they also epitomize the failure by a large segment of the Japanese society to come to term with the country’s wartime actions and a lack of collective acceptance for Japan’s responsibility for its crimes and atrocities committed against its neighbors.
In turn, countries in the region perceive Japan’s rising nationalism and militarist aspirations as a threat to the region, to their national security and history, and nourish the existing grievances against Japan.
In a vicious circle, regional tensions, provocations and rising patriotisms are fueling each other, posing a great risk of disrupting the delicate balance in Northeast Asia, triggering an arms race and escalating into a regional – if not global – conflict that may prove the very concept of deterrence irrelevant.
In this context, and as Japan is preparing to hold elections of the Upper House of the Diet (Parliament) on July 21, the Global Article 9 Campaign has initiated an international petition to lend global support to the Japanese peace movement and ask Prime Minister Abe not to amend Japan’s Peace clause.
Launched in 2005 by a coalition of civil society organizations in Japan, the Campaign seeks not only to locally protect Article 9; it also seeks to underline its role as a regional peace mechanism and encourage governments to work towards disarmament, demilitarization and a culture of peace.
Today, Japan’s peace movement is seeking the urgent support of those who wish for peace – for Japan’s peace constitution and against the Japanese government’s trend of nationalism, historical revisionism and its path to militarism that risk having grave consequences for Japan, the regional context and international peace.
More information about the Global Article 9 Campaign: http://www.article-9.org/en/index.html
For the International Petition: “Prime Minister Abe: Save Japan’s Peace Constitution”: http://www.change.org/petitions/prime-minister-shinzo-abe-save-japan-s-peace-constitution