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Editorial: Thoroughness lacking in LDP's Article 9 amendment debate

Deliberations within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on amendments to war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution have reached the consensus-building stage.

The party is aiming to keep the first and second paragraphs of Article 9, which renounces war and bans Japan from maintaining war potential, respectively, while explicitly stating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) -- a proposal made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a way to put an end to the debate over whether or not the SDF is unconstitutional.

We do not deny the importance of determining where the SDF stands in relation to the Constitution. But Article 9 upholds pacifism, which is central to the Japanese Constitution. Making changes to the article requires meticulous debate over every single word so as not to leave any ambiguity or room for misinterpretation.

The seven LDP amendment proposals to Article 9 that have been released by the party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision of the Constitution have not been backed up by this kind of thorough discussion. What it takes most is to clarify the scope of the concept of "the right to self-defense."

The front-running proposal among senior officials of the LDP constitutional revision panel is the establishment of a new clause, "Article 9-2," which offers the maintenance of the SDF as "an organization with force existing at the minimum necessary level to protect Japan's peace and independence, and guarantee the safety of the state and its citizens."

The reason the SDF is considered not in violation of Article 9 under the current Constitution is because of the government's interpretation of the supreme law that if the SDF is "an organization with force existing at the minimum necessary level for self-defense," it does not qualify as "war potential." The new proposal follows this interpretation to a certain extent, but takes away the phrase, "for self-defense," likely because the LDP wants to avoid debate about the scope of Japan's right to self-defense under the Constitution.

In another proposal for Article 9-2, the SDF is described not as "an organization with force existing at the minimum necessary level," but as "an organization with force allowed under the preceding article (Article 9)," as a way to emphasize that a revision to Article 9 would not change the SDF's mission and authority, but rather maintain the restrictions on the SDF that exist under the current interpretation of Article 9.

Either of these proposals may have been meaningful had they come up before the government changed its interpretation of the Constitution from Japan having "the right to individual self-defense" to having "the right to collective self-defense." But the administration of Prime Minister Abe dismantled that premise.

With the 2015 passage of security-related legislation that made it possible for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited manner, the breadth of what is permitted as self-defense under the Constitution has been wavering. Thus, even if the debate over the SDF's constitutionality is put to rest, the debate over Japan's right to self-defense will continue.

There are inherent risks in writing in the specific name of an organization such as the SDF into the Constitution, when the scope of Japan's right to self-defense remains ambiguous. Is there not a possibility that the SDF will take on a life of its own, at a level independent from constitutional interpretation of the right to self-defense?

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