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Hiroshi Yuasa

【#459】Asking for Abe’s Determination to Amend Constitution

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2017.08.09 (Wed)

August 7, 2017

     Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his third reshuffled cabinet amid very adverse conditions. What I worry about is apparent hesitation in expressing his determination to amend the constitution. After being criticized for his poor response to the problem surrounding the Kake Educational Institution’s plan for a new veterinary school and his aggressive handling of National Diet deliberations, Prime Minister Abe refrained from discussing the constitutional amendment in his opening statement for his first press conference after the cabinet reshuffle. In answering to a reporter’s question, Abe said any schedule on the constitutional amendment was not a given one, indicating a setback from his earlier-offered plan to see an amendment by 2020. As the first postwar prime minister to have put the constitutional amendment into his political agenda, Abe should demonstrate his strong leadership in amending Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.
     As a pragmatist, Abe left Masahiko Komura, vice president of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to take leadership in discussing the constitutional amendment. He meant the amendment discussions were up to the party, while the cabinet’s top priority was economy. As indicated by many prime ministers after the war, a prime minister who is desperate to maintain his administration amid his falling popularity ratings could lose his cause and fail.

Don’t follow in Yoshida’s footsteps
     The biggest chance to amend the constitution came in April 1952 when Japan recovered its independence with the San Francisco Peace Treaty taking effect. Under the constitution created as demanded by the Occupation Forces before the independence, Japan had not been allowed to consider its national security. However, then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida postponed a procedure for amending the constitution, giving priority to the maintenance of his government. Yoshida thought the time might come to amend the constitution later. As his authoritarian rule came under fire, however, he lost public support.
     I don’t want Abe to follow in Yoshida’s footsteps. In the face of North Korea’s nuclear development and China’s increasing military intimidation, Japan is now required to switch from the anachronistic “exclusively defense-oriented” policy to a realistic “active defense” policy with offensive power. Even a U.S. newspaper editorial notes that Article 9 of the constitution is “becoming dangerous to Japan,” urging Japan to use its own defensive and offensive power to enhance deterrence against North Korea and China. Particularly, Japan should delete unrealistic paragraph 2 of the constitution’s Article 9, which says: “Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Abe’s raison d'etre
     However, even the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had been slow to move to amend Article 9 to justify “active defense.” While calling for adding an emergency clause to the constitution hesitantly, the party had avoided proposing the deletion of Article 9, the most problematic part in the constitution. While repeating discussions on the constitutional amendment, it had not made any progress toward the amendment. In a bid to break through the stalemate and suggest a path after securing two-thirds majority in the both chambers of the National Diet required to propose a constitutional amendment for a national referendum, Prime Minister Abe offered a plan in May to add a provision that stipulates the existence of the Self-Defense Forces while leaving war-renouncing paragraph 1 of Article 9 and force-denying paragraph 2 intact.
     Abe, whose real thought may be deleting paragraph 2, limited the proposed amendment to the addition of a new provision without the repeal of paragraph 2, giving priority to the feasibility of the constitutional amendment plan. It is questionable whether active defense could be secured with paragraph 2 left untouched, but any setback even from this compromised plan could greatly reduce Abe’s raison d'etre, amounting to the denial of his identity. I want Prime Minister Abe to renew his unflagging resolve to amend the constitution.

Hiroshi Yuasa is a Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.