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LDP looks to create new article specifying SDF in Constitution

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is considering introducing a new article separate from war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution in connection with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent proposal to enshrine the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the supreme law, it has been learned.

Prime Minister Abe argued in a video message released on May 3 that the Constitution's Article 9 should be revised to clearly define the SDF while upholding the article's first paragraph renouncing war and the second paragraph that bans Japan from maintaining any war potential.

However, instead of adding a third paragraph to Article 9, the LDP on May 24 began looking into introducing what it calls "Article 9-2" to the Constitution. By creating a separate article, the LDP aims to demonstrate that it will uphold Article 9 in its current nature. It also hopes to gain understanding from its coalition partner Komeito, which has shown reluctance toward changing the government's interpretation of Article 9 and expanding the role of the forces.

The LDP seeks to finalize its draft revision by the end of the year while working in close coordination with Komeito.

If "Article 9-2" is to be introduced to specify the SDF, its compatibility with Article 9's second paragraph that prohibits Japan from maintaining any war potential would become the primary point of contention. Proposals for the new article made within the ruling coalition so far include: "Notwithstanding the preceding article, the Self-Defense Forces shall be established" and "The preceding article shall not preclude the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces." Both proposals are aimed at striking a balance between the ban on maintaining war potential and the existence of the SDF.

However, the parts saying "Notwithstanding the preceding article" and "shall not preclude the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces" could also be interpreted as meaning that the SDF would not be constrained by the ban on Japan from maintaining any war potential, possibly raising criticism that the new article could lead to expanding the SDF's use of force. In order to limit the SDF's roles within the current bounds, another proposal that would specify the SDF as "an organization for self-defense" is also expected to be put to debate within the ruling coalition.

On May 12, LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Hakubun Shimomura told a TV program, "I am in favor of a plan to introduce a separate article as 'Article 9-2.' That would make it clear that it is not about 'adding new items to the Constitution,' under which the government's interpretation of the supreme law could be stretched."

LDP lawmaker Yoko Kamikawa, who serves as secretary-general of the party's Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters, has also told Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that she backs the "Article 9-2" proposal. Kamikawa belongs to a party faction headed by Kishida. While Kishida has expressed a lukewarm stance toward ever changing Article 9, he agreed with Kamikawa's opinion, raising the possibility that a consensus will be built within the LDP.

When Prime Minister Abe unveiled his plan to change the supreme law, he was apparently conscious of Komeito's policy of "adding new articles to the Constitution while retaining the basic framework of the supreme law." Komeito would likely find it difficult to refute Abe's proposal for creating "Article 9-2" while retaining the current Article 9. According to informed sources, the idea of introducing "Article 9-2" emerged as Abe and senior Komeito officials held closed-door discussions from around the summer of 2016.

A senior Komeito official, however, remained wary of the LDP's move, saying, "(Adding a new article to the Constitution) concerns the role of the SDF. Depending on how the article is written, the scope of the SDF's activities could be expanded."

In a related development, the LDP's Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters announced on May 24 that it has expanded its force to give full consideration to the drafting of a revised Constitution. Under the new lineup, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, policy chief Toshimitsu Motegi and two other party heavyweights were appointed as advisers to the constitutional reform promotion headquarters, while Shimomura, who is Abe's close ally, was named as assistant to headquarters chief Okiharu Yasuoka.

At a meeting of the constitutional reform promotion headquarters, Yasuoka told attendees, "I will strive to ensure that more active discussion will be held at the commissions on the Constitution in both chambers of the Diet and that a national referendum on constitutional amendment will be called at the earliest date possible."

Following the meeting, Yasuoka told the assembled media, "We have discussed constitutional reform for over a decade, and are now approaching the time to make a specific proposal to the public."

The first paragraph of Article 9 states: "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." The second paragraph reads: "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 belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

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