05/16/2007, 00.00
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Towards a new constitution: Tokyo will officially have the army it already has

by Pino Cazzaniga
The current constitution does not allow for the use of military force and therefore prohibits the existence of an army. But Japan has the world’s fifth biggest military budget and boasts 250 thousand men in its defence forces equipped with some of the most advanced weapons.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement of his aim to modify the Constitution, in particular Article 9 which excludes the country’s use of a military force, in a certain sense seeks to give jurisdiction to an already existing reality.  Japan has the world’s fifth biggest military budget and boasts 25 thousand men in its defence forces equipped with some of the most technologically advanced weapons.

In his May 3rd speech marking the 60 anniversary of the Constitution (1947) – Abe said: “A courageous revision of the post war regime and an in depth discussion of the constitution will promote a spirit of progress towards the future”.   It is not a rhetorical statement; rather it underscores an important element of his government programme

Ten years ago, marking the 50th anniversary, the then prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, had observed: “Japan is dedicated to actively contributing to international peace and prosperity in the context of its constitutional philosophy”, which in short meant: renouncing the use of arms in resolving international problems.

Abe claims the contrary: in order to be in step with the times, there is an urgent need to change the constitution and moreover article 9, which blocks intervention in areas of global security.  According to this article, Japan renounces the use of military intervention on an international level and as a consequence, forbids itself to posses military ground, sea or air forces.   

“Our constitution is 60 years old, and therefore it’s time it was put to rest” observed a member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This view is not only shared by the political majority and opposition, but also by over half of the country’s population: according to a recent poll by the daily Asahi over 58% of those asked declared themselves in favour of its revision.   But these numbers are turned on their head when the question of Article 9 arises.  Only 33% wants it revised; 59% wants it to remain as it is.  Moreover it seems that 78% believe that the article in question has helped Japan maintain peace since 1945.

May 3rd in Tokyo before a public of over 6 thousand people Ms Mizuno Fukushima, president of the Social Democrats Party said: “For Japan, the fact that we have killed no-one and that not a single Japanese citizen has been killed in war is a motive for success; this is thanks to Article 9”.

But the truth is that Japan has been de-militarized only in principal.  The so-called self-defence forces, SDF, comprise 250 thousand troops and have an annual budget of 45 million dollars: the fifth in the world after the United States, Germany, Great Britain and France.  

The Japanese SDF are equipped with some of the most technologically advanced weapons, excluding nuclear arms.  The law outlining the so-called “Three anti-nuclear principals” approved by the Diet in 1970 prohibits Japan to build posses or allow nuclear arms enter national territory.   But until when? Recently, Shoichi Nakagawa, president of the LDP’s commission for political research, following the North Korean nuclear threat, urged discussion on the question of owning nuclear arms.  Abe, who is also president of LDP, blocked the proposal stating that his government would remain faithful to the three anti-nuclear principals.

Apart from the SDF there are other powerful military arsenals in Japan.  In 1952, the year of the Japanese peace accord with the United States and other nations, Tokyo and Washington ratified the “mutual security assistance pact”, in function of which the US has in three large military bases present in the archipelagos, consisting of 47.000 troops with airplanes and armaments not subject to limitations, because they fall under US jurisdiction.

This reality clashes head on with the constitutional dictates which forbids the nation from possessing armed forces.  But how did all of this come about?  The answer is quite paradoxical: at the request of the US government which is the author of the present constitution. In July of 1950, just three years after the application of the new constitution, when a large part of the American military presence on the ground was moved on to Korea, commander of the occupation forces general Mc Arthur encouraged Japan to take over national defence and authorized the creation of an armed corps of 75 thousand men.  The rest is simple development.

For decades SDF troops never ventured beyond national borders as set out by Article 9, but in 2004 the Japanese government authorized a mission to support the Iraqi rebuilding programme, following a US request.  The mission marked a significant turn in Japanese history, considering it’s the first time troops have been sent abroad since the end of World War Two. In order o justify its decision the government offered enigmatic explanations anchored in the mutual defence pact with the United States.

Everything would be made easier by changing the Constitution which, according to members of the governing party, is not only antiquated but also violates the United Nations Constitutional Charter, which recognises each individual nations right to military defence and to come to the aid of an allied nation.

Tetrsuya Takahashi, professor of philosophy at the prestigious Tokyo University, has no difficulty in recognising this point.  According to international law, he said “One of the first definitions of a modern nation is that it posses an army and has recourse to force when necessary.  In this sense the current Japanese constitution is revolutionary in so far as it completely changed the face of the nation”. But this, maintains Takahashi, is a point of pride for Japan, rendering it a precursor of a culture of peace, most importantly at a juridical level.



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