By Gabriele Natalizia and Francesca Ranieri, October 2017
Internationally speaking, Japanese Defense Policy is a sui generis case, in particular if we consider it in the light of Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. This article reads that:”
- Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
- In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerencyof the state will not be recognized.”
The repudiation of war as a means of solving international disputes is a feature present in many other national constitutions, but the renunciation to an official national army is a fact unique to Japan, and it has frequently fostered curiosity, criticism and attempts at reform.
Japan actually has a sort of unofficial army (the JSDF, or Jieitai), but it is not recognized in the constitution and it has very limited possibilities of action. Hence, the proposals on reform of Article 9 have focused on the officialization and on the expansion of the scope of action of Jieitai.
Japanese “hyper-pacifism” has frequently been considered as not adequate to tackle the international contingencies which have been characterizing the world after the end of the Cold War. Two episodes have fostered the debate on the reform of Article 9 in detail: the First Gulf War and the North Korean nuclear threat.
In the event of the First Gulf War, Japanese role was limited to financial contributions, while the United States, the United Kingdom and the states of the Arab League deployed their troops. For this apparent inactivity on the field, Japan was frequently criticized, and its actions were sarcastically described as part of a “checkbook diplomacy”. The cause for Japanese inactivity actually was the legal framework of Article 9, which the Kaifu government tried to overcome with the UN Peace Cooperation Bill. The decree at hand, would have permitted the JSDFs to participate to the coalition, but it did not eventually pass.
This caused a great humiliation to Japan, and it provided an example which could sustain the instances in favor of the reform of the Defense policy of Japan.
But another international fact influenced the debate on Japanese rearmament even more: the North Korean nuclear threat.
Indeed, North Korean policy towards Japan has frequently been characterized by a great animosity deriving from the colonization of the Korean Peninsula by Japan in the period 1910-1945. Furthermore, the lack of common cultural roots emphasized the rivalry between the two countries.
North Korea has often tested nuclear missiles which landed in the Sea of Japan, the last ones of which were fired on Hokkaido in August and September of 2017.
Both the First Gulf War and the North Korean nuclear threat have provided two causes which have strengthened the position of those in favor of the rearmament of Japan; indeed, the first episode emphasized the important role which Japan has in the international community, and the necessity to have a suitable military body with which to reply to international contingencies, while the North Korean threat represents a concrete danger against which Japan feels defenseless.
The necessity of a Japanese constitutional reform and of a consequent rearmament has been strongly sustained by the conservative political party LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), which is Japan 's largest political party. The Sunday’s results of the House of Representatives elections are a decisive victory for Shinzo Abe and his LDP, and this might pave the way for the constitutional reform which Abe frequently hinted.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party won 281 seats, while its ally, the Komeito party, gained 29, securing the two-thirds majority of 310 in the 465-member House of Representatives.
This is a really significant result for the eventuality of a constitutional reform, because a majority of two-thirds is required in both Diet houses to formally propose a constitutional revision, which must then gain a majority of votes in a national referendum.
The coalition (LDP plus Komeito) is already close to a two-third majority in the Upper House (151 seats on 242), and it has now gained the necessary majority for a reform in the House of Representatives. Hence, the probabilities to submit the issue of the constitutional reform to a referendum are really high, and this occurrence and its eventual results might be a historic event for Japan.