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Editorial: LDP shows rashness in rush to produce constitutional amendment proposal

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution has completed discussion on a proposed amendment to Article 9 of Japan's supreme law with a reference to the grounds for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF).

The party wants to add a clause stating that the SDF exists to "preserve our country's peace and independence, and preserve the safety of the country and its people" while maintaining the second paragraph of Article 9, which states that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." This is in line with a proposal by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Party officials initially proposed defining the SDF in the Constitution as "an armed organization with minimum necessary strength" but this was replaced with a statement that the forces could take "necessary self-defense measures."

In order to preserve consistency with the second paragraph of Article 9, the government has defined the SDF as an organization with strength "below war potential." The LDP backed this up with a proposal to adopt the phrase "minimum necessary." But the LDP's new proposal has made this restriction vague. Under the proposal, if the government deemed it "necessary," the new paragraph would be grounds to greatly expand the forces' scope of activities and equipment. One could even read into the amendment full-scale application of collective self-defense.

Prime Minister Abe has maintained that even if the Constitution were amended, there would be "no change in the role and jurisdiction of the SDF," but this statement is at odds with the actual proposal.

Within the LDP, there was a clash between those on the prime minister's side, who called for retention of the second paragraph of Article 9, and former party secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba and others who backed removal of the second paragraph. Party leaders probably changed the phrasing of their proposal out of consideration for those who had called to delete the second paragraph, enabling them to consolidate opinion ahead of the LDP convention on March 25.

Political parties are free to discuss the Constitution however they see fit. The LDP, however, is a political party that has led politics in the postwar era, and which now has an overwhelming majority in both chambers of the Diet. It is dismaying that such a party has treated Article 9 -- the nucleus of the current Constitution -- in such an offhand manner and presented such a coarse amendment proposal.

Peace in postwar Japan has been balanced upon Article 9 and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which have different orientations. From the outset, the purpose of the SDF has been to supplement the security arrangement.

There have been repeated attempts by right-wing forces in Japan to eliminate distortion in the situation from these different orientations. Nevertheless, Article 9 has stayed put -- for no reason other than that it has persisted in the public's view as a symbol of the nation's break from abhorrent prewar militarism.

In other words, because Article 9 remains a national aspiration blended with a negative historical view of the prewar period, support for right-wing groups that have despised Article 9 as a "rule of humiliation" has not spread. The "wisdom of conservative politics" is what has allowed Article 9 to coexist with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the SDF.

However, the SDF is now one of the world's largest armed organizations in terms of equipment and personnel. Over 70 years have passed since the current Constitution went into effect, and there is significance in raising the issue of how this organization should be defined in light of the Constitution.

The international environment in which Japan now finds itself has also changed. China's military might is increasing year by year, and the will and ability of erstwhile sole superpower the United States to maintain the international order alone has declined.

For Japan, a realistic option is probably to build a network of mutual dependence in security with countries that share the same sense of values on freedom and democracy, centering on the U.S. which is still in the lead in relative terms.

Discussion on the SDF should be held carefully with meticulous attention, covering the historical significance Article 9 has played, changes in the surrounding environment, and how the pacifism and principle of international collaboration in the Constitution can be applied today.

The route taken by the LDP, however, diverges widely from such a fair-and-square approach.

The reason party leaders rushed to consolidate a stance ahead of the party convention was that it was calculating backwards from its goal of setting a constitutional amendment draft in motion this autumn.

Why must it be initiated this autumn? The reason is that forces in favor of amending the Constitution currently have the two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet that they need for such a move. The reason that Prime Minister Abe set a goal of revising the Constitution in 2020 is that he can't talk about the issue without the prospect of him being in office at the time.

One could argue that the prime minister and LDP are simply setting up a schedule for constitutional amendment that, on many levels, is self-serving. There is no indication of a sincere attempt to work out a new "national consensus" through a joint effort by the Diet and the public.

As discussion on revising Article 9 has remained taboo for a long time, various twists and turns could probably be expected. But the prime minister has no qualms about describing the current Constitution as one forced upon Japan. Work to revise the Constitution with such a feeling is sure to divide the country irreversibly.

The Constitution is a shared asset, and its amendment is not something to be unilaterally decided by forces siding with the prime minister. Whether there is a two-thirds majority of those favoring amendment or not, the process of maturing national opinion is the most important.

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