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Editorial: LDP's move to add clause to Constitution defining SDF raises questions

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is striving to add a clause defining the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to the war-renouncing Constitution after reshuffling its Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution. The party intends to draw up its own draft by the end of this year.

The Mainichi Shimbun does not completely reject Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposal to add a clause to the supreme law clearly stating that Japan possesses the SDF while retaining Article 9's war-renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 that bans the country from maintaining any war potential.

However, specific proposals on a new clause under discussion within the LDP have raised serious questions about the party's intentions to amend the Constitution.

A high-ranking member of the LDP close to the prime minister mentioned the possibility of adding Article 9-2 on the SDF to the supreme law.

If the proposed clause is to state, "Notwithstanding the preceding article, the Self-Defense Forces shall be established" or "The preceding article shall not preclude the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces," paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9 could be interpreted as not restraining the SDF's activities.

The Japan Conference (Nippon Kaigi), a nationalist association, made a proposal on constitutional amendments as if to support the LDP's latest constitutional reform plan.

Tetsuo Ito, head of the Japan Policy Institute and a senior member of the Japan Conference, proposed in the September 2016 issue of its journal to add paragraph 3 to Article 9 stating that "the preceding clause shall not preclude the possession of forces for self-defense based on international law."

The right to self-defense includes the right to collective self-defense under international law. Therefore, one cannot help but wonder whether Ito's proposal is aimed at removing restrictions placed by Article 9 on Japan's use of force for self-defense. The journal's November 2016 issue even published an opinion that a third paragraph providing for the existence of the SDF should be added to Article 9 to make the clause's paragraph 2 a dead letter. This would amount to a complete denial of Article 9.

The government's interpretation of the Constitution as permitting the existence of the SDF was established by the government's unified view in 1954 that the use of force to defend the country is constitutional.

The government had for decades interpreted Article 9 as banning Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense on the grounds that it would go beyond the bounds of the minimum necessary use of force for self-defense.

In 2014, the Abe Cabinet reinterpreted the clause to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited way. If the LDP were to aim to add a new clause to Article 9 with the goal of removing restrictions on the right to collective self-defense that Japan can exercise, it would make Article 9 a dead letter, which would certainly split public opinion.

Therefore, the LDP should clarify its purpose of adding a new clause to Article 9 before considering the specific draft of a new clause.

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