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LDP mulls defining SDF as 'organization with force' in revised Constitution

Members of the Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution listen as a high-ranking official of the panel speaks at a meeting in Tokyo on Dec. 20, 2017. (Mainichi)

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s constitutional revision headquarters is considering adding to the Constitution a clause specifying that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) constitute an "organization with force" existing at the minimum necessary level, in an attempt to distinguish the SDF from war potential, it has been learned.

The move comes in response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's suggestion of adding to the war-renouncing Constitution a provision clearly defining the existence of the SDF while retaining the second paragraph of its Article 9 that bans Japan from possessing any war potential. It is also aimed at quelling persistent calls within the LDP for completely deleting the second paragraph in a revised supreme law.

The LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, however, has yet to put together a draft for the new proposal, as the debate over how to write the objectives of the SDF into the supreme law still remains a key point of contention. The group is set to reopen a discussion on the issue at the beginning of next year.

Prime Minister Abe proposed on Constitution Memorial Day on May 3 that the SDF be clearly stipulated in the Constitution while retaining Article 9's first paragraph renouncing war, as well as the second paragraph. In an Oct. 8 program on public broadcaster NHK, Abe explained, "The restrictions placed by the second paragraph will remain intact. (The SDF) will be limited to the minimum necessary (level of force)."

The prime minister and senior LDP officials are stressing that the proposed constitutional amendment is aimed at clarifying the constitutionality of the SDF in an apparent bid to gain wider understanding among the general public toward constitutional reform.

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba and his allies, meanwhile, are arguing for deletion of the second paragraph once and for all in order to make clear the nature and purposes of the SDF. Ishiba is known for spearheading the drafting of the LDP's constitutional revision proposal in 2012 that called for the establishment of national defense forces.

As the constitutional revision headquarters failed to build consensus within the party by the end of the year, it went no further than announcing a summary of opinions, including pros and cons, on Dec. 20.

The Japanese government has taken the position that the SDF constitute "a minimum necessary level organization with force to defend Japan" to distinguish it from war potential. It accordingly deems the troops constitutional.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the constitutional revision headquarters, and LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, who serves as a special adviser to the unit, agreed that a new clause should be added to the Constitution to specify the SDF as a minimum necessary level organization with force in an effort to strike a party consensus in line with the prime minister's proposal.

The headquarters, however, still needs to coordinate views over how to stipulate the purposes and missions of the SDF in its draft revision. Senior officials at the headquarters are divided over whether to employ the government's view that the SDF is intended for defending the country, or to broaden the role of the SDF to state that the troops are aimed at maintaining the country's peace and security and play a part in its existence.

In addition, the headquarters has yet to decide whether to retain the name "Self-Defense Forces" in its draft for constitutional amendment. At a general meeting of the headquarters on Dec. 20, some members called for a clear stipulation of the country's right to self-defense in the supreme law. However, the headquarters will consider the proposal with caution as it may split public opinion just like when highly controversial security-related legislation, which opened the way for Japan's limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense, was enacted in 2015 amid fierce protests across the country.

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