Setsu Kobayashi, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Keio University who is widely known for being a proponent of constitutional revision, is irate over how constitutional revisions are currently being discussed. "The options being discussed over constitutional amendment (entailing the addition of a third paragraph to Article 9) will not lead to a solution for the intrinsic contradictions we face. They're irresponsible as long-term policy."
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Kobayashi has long served as a policy expert for Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers invested in national defense. But he is adamant that the proposals for constitutional revision that are currently being suggested have no benefit to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), or to Japan's national security.
As for the right of belligerency of the state, which looks like it will become a focal point in the constitutional amendment debate, Kobayashi explains, "There is significant meaning in a sovereign nation not exercising its right of belligerence. Under international law, if a soldier shoots a soldier from another country dead, they are not tried for murder. However, Japan has made it possible through the 2015 security legislation to deploy the SDF, which under the Constitution is not a military, to go overseas. From the perspective of SDF personnel, who do not have the freedom to act as soldiers from militaries do, it's an unwelcome change."
Kobayashi believes that even if the Constitution were to clearly stipulate the existence of the SDF, contradictions will not be resolved. "It's traditionally been thought by LDP legislators invested in national security that leaving the second paragraph of Article 9 only leaves the SDF at greater risk of danger," Kobayashi explains. "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is exploiting the public's positive sentiment toward the SDF, which has been cultivated through the SDF's participation in disaster relief, to argue, 'Isn't it terrible that there are constitutional law experts and leftist political parties that call our trustworthy SDF unconstitutional? Isn't that unfair to the SDF?'"
Furthermore, Kobayashi speculates that Abe is probably arguing on an emotional level just because he dislikes the current Constitution. Kobayashi is confident that "adding a provision clearly stipulating the existence of the SDF may ostensibly make the SDF 'constitutional,' but it won't solve the problem." He argues that the solution is to revise Article 9, using the right to individual self-defense as the basis for explicitly stating the existence of a "national defense military."
How then, do SDF personnel, who may find their legitimacy written into the Constitution, feel about this possibility? Takao Izutsu, a former GSDF member who heads Veterans for Peace Japan, says, "Some elites, who graduated from the National Defense Academy and are at the Joint Staff level, will be happy about it. But I think that many sergeants and others (who are in charge on the ground) do not welcome such changes. Deep down, they don't want war."
Izutsu enlisted with the SDF in 1988, and became a member of the elite GSDF rangers in 1991. In 1993, following the passage of the United Nations peacekeeping operations law, which made it possible for the SDF to be deployed overseas, Izutsu left the SDF. He questions the Abe administration's attitudes toward the SDF and the Constitution. "The Abe administration steamrolled the security laws (in 2015) despite objections from constitutional law scholars and the public. And now, the administration is saying that the Constitution should be changed because constitutional law experts say that the existence of the SDF is unconstitutional. There seems to be a double standard."
The new security legislation created a framework in which the SDF could be deployed overseas for the purpose of collective self-defense, incorporating missions that vastly differ from the disaster relief activities of the SDF, which the majority of the public supports, into permanent law.
Says Izutsu, "I would understand if the move to change the Constitution came from the public wanting the SDF to take on a new role due to reasons such as North Korea's missile development program. But that's not what the current debate over the Constitution is about. Rather, politicians who are meant to be subject to the restrictions stipulated by the Constitution are initiating constitutional changes that will allow the SDF to fight overseas. If these politicians are demanding that SDF personnel prepare themselves for the possibility of dying on the battlefield, they should be upfront about it with SDF personnel, their families and the public."
Tetsumi Takara, a professor at the University of Ryukyus, warns of the implications of the changes being proposed by the ruling LDP. "The only administrative organizations written into the current Constitution are the Cabinet and the Board of Audit of Japan. If 'the Self-Defense Forces' were to also be written into the Constitution, it will become a constitutional organ of the government. We must take into consideration how significant that would be."
Takara goes on to explain what he means, using the case of the Sakishima Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. SDF deployment plans there have been implemented at a rapid rate in recent years, including the construction of a GSDF base on Yonaguni Island. "If deployment on Okinawa's main island, where the population is the greatest (of the Ryukyu Islands,) were to be beefed up, there would be massive protest. However, if the SDF were deployed on an island with a relatively small population, the number of SDF personnel would far outnumber civilian residents. If the SDF were explicitly written into the Constitution under such circumstances, there's a danger that simply protesting the presence of SDF troops would be regarded as problematic activity," he says.
According to Takara, in Okinawa Prefecture, where strong protest against the construction of a new U.S. military base in the Henoko district of the northern prefectural city of Nago continues, the issue of the possible incorporation of the SDF into the Constitution has not captured the wide attention of the public. But he worries that if the legitimacy of the SDF were written into the Constitution, it would throw Okinawa Prefecture -- already in severe anguish over the issue of U.S. military bases -- into further chaos.
"The SDF will see great qualitative change in terms of budget and equipment" if the existence of the SDF were written into the Constitution, Takara says. "Considering the less-than-good relationship between Japan and China, SDF deployment in Okinawa Prefecture will only heighten tensions between the two countries."
Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution has been the bedrock of post-war Japan's pacifism. We must keep a close eye on constitutional debate to prevent the drawing of a quick-and-dirty conclusion. (This is Part 2 of a 2-part series)