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Editorial: LDP's proposed revision to Article 9 fraught with problems

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is moving ahead with discussion on a draft revision to Article 9 of the Constitution in an attempt to specify the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the supreme law. The direction of the discussion has taken shape based on proposed revision submitted by party legislators.

The discussion was heralded by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposal in May last year that the SDF be clearly stipulated in the supreme law while retaining the first and second paragraphs of Article 9, which renounces war and bans Japan from maintaining any war potential, respectively.

In a summary of contentious points compiled by the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution late last year, the panel listed both types of proposals -- one for maintaining the second paragraph and the other for deleting that paragraph and characterizing the SDF as having the potential for war. Among the proposed revisions recently submitted to the panel by party legislators, more called for leaving the second paragraph intact.

However, when those proposals are closely examined, one can tell how difficult it would be to write the prime minister's proposal -- to the effect that the SDF's mission and authority should remain unchanged under the revision -- into a constitutional clause.

The second paragraph of Article 9 stipulates that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." However, the SDF has never been ruled unconstitutional because the government has taken the position that "an organization with force existing at the minimum necessary level for self-defense" does not constitute the potential for war prohibited under the Constitution.

Such a position could be written into the supreme law if a new clause providing for Japan's maintenance of "an organization with force existing at the minimum necessary level for self-defense" is added to it in the form of a third paragraph of Article 9 or a second clause of Article 9 as "Article 9-2."

The question arises, however, over whether the scope of "the minimum necessary level" would be limited to the right to individual self-defense for protecting Japan only or would include the right to collective self-defense for protecting its allies as well.

The administration of Prime Minister Abe has opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited manner by introducing security-related legislation, in defiance of the past administrations' common position that the use of collective defense would violate the Constitution. If the phrase "the minimum necessary level" is to be added to the supreme law, it could leave room for an administration to arbitrarily change its interpretation of the phrase.

Likewise, just rephrasing "an organization with force" into "the Self-Defense Forces" under the revision would do little to answer the question of how far the scope of Japan's "self-defense" extends. Some point out that writing the SDF into the Constitution would come in conflict with the fact that the Defense Ministry, which manages and operates the SDF, and other administrative bodies are not specified in the supreme law in the first place.

There was even a proposal to add a provision stipulating that "the preceding two paragraphs would not prevent the invocation of the right to self-defense," paving the way for Japan to exercise the right to self-defense in its entirety. Such a provision would in effect emasculate the constraints imposed by Article 9 and is therefore out of the question.

Calls persist within the LDP that the revision to Article 9 should first start with specifying the SDF, and then move on to delete the article's second paragraph in the next phase. This raises doubts that LDP members' true intentions are to render the war-renouncing Article 9 a mere dead letter.

We are not negating the prime minister's proposal to have the SDF specified in the supreme law. However, we must say none of the proposed revisions to Article 9 that are currently under review by the LDP is free of problems.

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