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Abe determined to end debate on whether SDF are constitutional: exclusive interview

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions by Mainichi Shimbun Political News Department Managing Editor Chiyako Sato at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on July 3, 2017. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized his ambition to put an end to debate on whether Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are constitutional by adding a new clause to the war-renouncing Constitution, during a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. Below is an excerpt from the interview on July 3.

The Mainichi Shimbun: You announced on May 3 that you will aim to have the revised Constitution -- in which the existence of the SDF is stated while maintaining Paragraph 1 and Paragraph 2 of Article 9 (under which Japan declares its renunciation of war as a sovereign right and gives up any war potential) -- come into effect in 2020. But then you said you wanted to submit a draft revision by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the extraordinary Diet session, essentially moving up the schedule. Don't you think you're trying to push a topic that requires careful debate among ruling and opposition parties too quickly?

Prime Minister Abe: Over 90 percent of the Japanese people say they have confidence in the SDF. For the government, it's unquestionable that the SDF are constitutional. However, many constitutional scholars and political parties still argue that the SDF are unconstitutional, and as a result, many textbooks include that there are opinions that the organization violates the supreme law.

As the supreme commander of the SDF, I am the one who will give the final order, such as instructing SDF troops to go to Mount Ontake for rescue operations if there is a chance of another eruption. I believe it's our responsibility to have the SDF stated in the Constitution and leave no room for discussion that their existence may be unconstitutional.

Popular sovereignty, respect for fundamental human rights and pacifism (together known as the three principles of the Japanese Constitution) are universal and will not change in the future, but since the party's foundation, making amendments to the supreme law has been the LDP's principle policy for over 60 years. As 70 years have passed since the Constitution came into force, I believe it's high time that the debate over constitutional amendment deepened and different opinions converged. With these points in mind, I made the (May 3) announcement as the president of the party.

M: Have you changed your opinion about submitting an LDP draft for constitutional revisions to the extraordinary Diet session scheduled for this fall?

A: No, I haven't.

M: The original LDP draft for the revised Constitution included amendments to Paragraph 2 of Article 9 to establish a "national defense military." Your recent announcement can be taken to mean that you've toned down your own theory and see the SDF as "an organization that possesses force" rather than one with a "military capacity" under the Constitution.

A: I'm also a Diet lawmaker and the Diet can propose constitutional amendments. Having such authority comes with responsibility. Do we initiate amendments or do we not? Can we say that we're fulfilling our responsibility (by not proposing revisions)? We are required to answer these questions. I've come to decide that we must put an end to the debate on whether the SDF are constitutional or unconstitutional in my generation.

M: Is it OK to maintain Article9, Paragraph 2 as it is?

A: I just answered that.

M: Are you thinking about holding a referendum for constitutional amendments and a House of Representatives election simultaneously?

A: The proposal for constitutional revisions is something done by the legislative branch and not the executive branch. I want commissions on the Constitution (in both houses of the Diet) to debate over the issue first.

M: A decision on the planned consumption tax hike needs to be made in the fall of next year. There is speculation that if the timing of (the referendum for) the constitutional amendment and that of the sales tax hike decision overlap, the tax increase might get postponed.

A: The issues of constitutional revisions and the sales tax hike are completely unrelated. The consumption tax increase should be considered from a perspective of handing down a reliable social security system to future generations and maintaining confidence in Japan. This is purely economic. (Interview by Chiyako Sato, managing editor of the Political News Department)

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