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A New Era, A New Strategy:

Zena Ho looks at Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and its possibility of change

by Zena M. Ho     


 Since the end of World War II, and the adoption of SCAP’s interim constitution in 1946, the Japanese regarded constitutional revision on Article 9 a taboo topic. Article 9 was put into the constitution by General MacArthur during the U.S. led Occupation in Japan for the purpose of creating the “establishment of a peaceful and responsible government which will respect the rights of other states and will support the objectives of the U.S. as reflected in the ideals and principles of the charter of the U.N.” (Herzog, 218).  For the purposes of destroying the military state that was so strong pre 1945, Article 9 states:
1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.  (The Nikkei Weekly, Feb. 9, 2004).

With this article adopted by the Japanese after World War II, Japan was to be demilitarized and rebuilt. So the question remains why after almost half a decade is the revision of the Constitution and in particular Article 9 coming to the forefront of politics? In this paper I will discuss why revision is most likely to happen now and what has changed both domestically and internationally. I will also suggest what the new provision would say and how this new revision will affect Japan and its regional security policy. 

How the Japanese regard Article 9:

 Most of the Japanese public found Article 9 to be acceptable in the 1950s. This was due to the leadership of the first postwar Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru. The Japanese left politics and international affairs to the U.S. and the Occupation and themselves focused on what was labeled as the “Yoshida Doctrine.” This doctrine enabled the Japanese to affirm their security ties by delegating security matters to the U.S., capping their defense spending to 1%, and “shifting their attention to economics” (Anderson, 1). After the Chinese Revolution and Korean War, the U.S. pushed Japan to help defend against further communist advances in East Asia. And so, General MacArthur pushed Yoshida, the Prime Minister at the time to create the National Police Reserves in 1950.
As the Cold War escalated, Japan’s National Police Reserves became the National Security Forces and then in 1954 became SDF. Also, in 1952 the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was adopted and recognized Japan’s right of self-defense and ensured that Japan could voluntarily enter into collective security arrangements. The revision committed the U.S. military in Japan not only to the defense of Japan but also that of the Far East (Itoh, 314). In 1960, the renewal of the U.S.-Japan security treaty caused parties on the left to vehemently oppose the revision causing riots and violent protests, but they were ignored in the end. According to Professor Thies, this was the last roar until recently on behalf of the Japanese public against the U.S.
Since the adoption of the Peace Clause and the SCAP assisted Constitution, the international system has changed from a bipolar world, during the period of the Cold War, to a system dominated by one power, the U.S. hegemon. The shift in the international order has significantly rearranged the relations of many nations and in turn many have adopted new methods to adapt to the new hegemonic world order. Many, that is besides the Japanese, who since  1947 have not revised their Constitution.
The Japanese were under the shadows of the U.S. power for so long that when the U.S. began to act unilaterally without consulting their ally, the Japanese were unprepared to act. For instance, when the U.S. felt they were engaged in a “trade war” with their ally, they began to reconsider the protectionist policies that helped fuel Japan’s rising economic power (Hein, 116). From the economic shocks Japan experienced in the 1970s-1980s Tokyo realized how insecure their economy was to their ally. Tokyo wanted to be more independent of the U.S., which can be achieved through changing Article 9, but maintaining the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty because they have no “viable alternative to life under the U.S. hegemon” (Hein, 116).   

Why is there now a call for Constitutional revision in Japan?

The topic of Constitutional revision, especially in regards to Article 9, the Peace Clause, has always been a taboo topic in and around Japan. Japan’s neighbors fear that a revision of this war-renouncing clause will emanate another destructive military state in Japan. This is due to the militaristic prewar Japan, who committed many atrocities towards its surrounding nations (Shimoyachi, 1). Adding to this fear, Japan’s regional neighbors sustain bitterness because Japan has on many occasions ignored their militaristic history and have not recognized nor apologized for its wrongdoings. For instance, the rape of Nanking in China from 1937-1938 was acknowledged, but the Japanese government claims that the numbers of slaughtered and raped was exaggerated, even though witnesses say otherwise. Instances such as these dealing with war crimes committed by the Japanese military state foster fears in Japan’s regional neighbors when discussing a revision of the war renouncing clause.
 After the 1991 Gulf War and the deployment of troops to Iraq, the taboo issue of revision grew active because many “government leaders and bureaucrats felt it was a diplomatic humiliation that Japan, while contributing 1.3 trillion yen to the war effort by the U.S.-led multinational forces, was unable to provide any personnel” (Shimoyachi, 1). Since 1991, the watershed period, the Japanese have been more active internationally. This is evident in 1992’s PKO Bill that reinterpreted the constitution to allow SDF to Indochina on UNPKO. Through media exposure and international pressures from abroad, the Japanese public came to realize change might be needed. For example, in a poll taken by the Asahi Shimbun, of 1,945 respondents to a survey 53 percent were in favor of revising the Constitution. This is crucial considering that revision requires a majority approval by the public along with the endorsement by two-thirds of the members of both the Upper House and the Lower House (Shimoyachi, 2).
Adding to the popular sentiment in Japan, the U.S. since the Gulf War has been probing Japan to play a more active role internationally and in more recent years the pressure is bound to be more overt. Although Japan had helped fund the war, the U.S. was frustrated that it had not or could not send troops (Johnston, 1). Further pressure was added when Richard Armitage in October 2000 authored a report on America’s relationship with Japan. In this report, he claimed that the U.S. and Japan had been drifting apart and so he called for a new policy that would bind the two countries even closer to each other militarily. A few months after this report, Armitage was named the Deputy Secretary of State, under President George W. Bush (Johnston, 2). 
The question of Constitutional revision also plays an impact on the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. In an article from the Yomiuri Shimbun on August 2004, it is stated that if the country is not able to fulfill its responsibilities and play a full role in the international community, the “U.S.-Japan Security Treaty may seem hollow” (Yomiuri Shimbun, 2). The current interpretation of the constitution is that “Japan has the right to collective defense under international law—but cannot exercise this right” (Kitazume, 3).  This Tokyo interpretation not only affects Japan’s relations with the U.S., but it adversely conflicts with Japan’s interest in gaining a permanent member seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Japan has been the second-largest financial contributor to the U.N.  and one of the largest foreign aid contributors. With a non-aggressive Constitution that prevents Japan from militarily acting in the international system, Japan instead has been able to actively play a financial role. Though Japan has the largest ODA program that aids 42 developing countries, Armitage claims this role is not sufficient to gaining a seat as a permanent member on the U.N Security Council ()Japan Economic Newswire, 1). Armitage proclaimed, “permanent Security Council members are required to use military force in some cases for the benefit of the international community” (Japan Economic Newswire, 1). Armitage continues by expressing that if Japan does not revise its Constitution and play a greater role militarily for the sake of international peace it would not only be very difficult to gain a permanent member seat, but Japan’s war-renouncing Article 9 could become an obstacle to strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.
 Japan’s security is a careful balance of bilateral and multilateral involvements.  Bilaterally, Japan and U.S. foreign and defense chiefs recently met for a “two-plus-two” meeting where a document came to suggest “a parallel interest in the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and in the Korean Peninsula (Kitazume, 3). This is significant because Japan has never identified threats publicly, but is now announcing that China and North Korea are new threats to Japan’s security. Japan hopes that by joining the U.S. in protecting Taiwan, China will be deterred from trying to take over Taiwan (Kitazume, 1). Japan fears that if China tries to forcefully take back Taiwan, an in flood of Taiwanese refugees would flood Japan and adversely affect its economy. But for deterrence to be successful, Japan will have to revise Article 9.
 Predictably, China has responded with alarm proclaiming that the U.S. and Japan are intervening with China’s sovereignty because the Taiwan issue is an internal China affair. Sino-Japanese relations since 1992 can be described as a competitive coexistence (Xinbo, 296). Economically both countries benefit from one another, but politically, they face a power struggle in the Asia Pacific. Both countries also have tension regarding the Senkaku Islands, a territory that both need for potential natural resources. The Chinese fear Japan’s possible revision of Article 9 believing the result would be similar to that of Japan’s prewar militaristic state.  Essentially, there is a continual misunderstanding on both states that views defensive actions as offensive moves, this is known as the security dilemma theory. An example of this is Japan’s decision to help the U.S. in research of theater missile defenses (TMD). Japan had decided to join the U.S. after North Korea in 1998 had launched a long-range missile over northern Japan (Christensen, 51). This caused Japan to realize the threat of North Korea and pushed Japan closer to the U.S.
 Multilaterally, Tokyo realizes it needs more friends to ensure its security. This explains Tokyo’s activism in U.N. PKO and also its proactive role in advocating six party talks with North Korea. The issue of North Korea is also making Tokyo weary. First of all, Tokyo has stated that the only way to normalize relations with North Korea would be to resolve the kidnapped remains of Japanese nationals and the use of nuclear weapons. North Korea has proclaimed that it has nuclear weapons problem. The Japanese fears that being the U.S. ally there is a possibility that if conflict were to arise, Japan would be targeted first due to its geographically close range. The North Korean threat, the tensions in China and the over powering nature of the U.S. military presence in Japan is making many Japanese want to revise article 9.  

What is the new provision most likely to say?

 It is obvious that due to regional security matters allowing Japan to build a military without restriction is highly unlikely. Since 1991 a watershed year for constitutional revision, particularly of Article 9, many opinions of what a provision should say has been circulating in Japan. For instance, as Hatoyama, a liberal leader articulates, “it is contradictory for Japan to possess what are for all intents and purposes an armed forces while having a constitution according to which the country relinquishes the right to arm itself” (Itoh, 325). Hatoyama suggests that a modification of the constitution should include revising Article 9 so that Japan can become a “normal” nation, which will be truly independent and self-confident. In conjunction with the aforementioned, the revision should include the right to collective self-defense, which would correspondingly strengthen U.S.-Japan security relations (Itoh, 325). These two changes would remove the legalistic excuse and allow SDF to be actively involved in UNPKOs.
 Even the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) is asserting that Japan needs to heed the moment and revise its outdated constitution. In particular, the Keidanren made two key proposals in regards to Article 9. Both discuss the role of the SDFs and their ability to act collectively in self-defense (Okubo, 2). This seems to be the most salient aspect of the Constitution that the public is interested in. The LDP’s main opposition party, the DPJ unveiled an interim report on constitutional revision, which proposes that “Japan has a limited right to self-defense” (Okubo, 1). Essentially the report calls for an establishment of a reserve force for the UN so that it can play a role in global peace and stability. Furthermore, the report makes clear that Japan can use self-defense in emergencies but only until the UN is first involved.
 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi from the LDP expressed that “Japan’s war-renouncing constitution should be revised to enable it to exercise the right to collective self-defense” (BBC, 2). Koizumi clarifies that it is necessary to revise the constitution in order for SDF to act jointly with the U.S. according to the U.S.-Japan security arrangements. With much of the population in favor of revision, along with the two largest parties in the Diet, Constitutional revision is likely, but if Japan changes its war-renouncing constitution how will it affect Japanese regional security?
How will Constitutional revision affect Japan’s regional security?

To start off, revising Article 9 to allow Japan to act collectively in self-defense through SDF seems a minuscule step considering Koizumi did send SDF to Iraq to help with UNPKO already, but the region around Japan fears any Japanese forces overseas. Due to the ghosts of Japan’s militaristic past, nations who directly felt the wrath of Japan’s military are weary of any use of force or arms the Japanese retain. When the Japanese SDF went overseas into Iraq, many nations feared that Japan was in the process of remilitarizing.
Many criticize PM Koizumi for being more of a hardliner when it comes to regional affairs and Japan’s role. This can be seen in Japan strengthening ties with the U.S. through the Security Consultative Committee (SCC), which identified crucial concerns for both parties (Kitazume, 1).  During these meetings, Japan and the U.S. explicitly stated their global concerns in a joint declaration that identified North Korea and China as main threats. However, China fears that “new defensive roles for Japan could break important norms of self-restraint, leading to more comprehensive Japanese military buildups later” (Christensen, 51). China views Japan’s recent defensive acts, for example its role in TMD, as aggressive and threatening. China is concerned for its own regional security fearing that the power of the U.S. and Japan will produce a security architecture of East Asia that is dominated by the U.S. and Japan and in turn curtail China’s influence in the region (Xinbo, 302).
The revision of Article 9 also worries the Korean peninsula. South Korea seeks a peaceful unification with the DPRK and favors a “sunshine” policy in dealing with the North, contrary to the U.S. and to some extent to Japan as well. Recently, the North commented that Tokyo was hostile in policy and did not seek to normalize relations with the DPRK (Foreign Press Center Japan, 1). This worries the South Koreans who do not want conflict to erupt because they will be directly in the line of fire. Due to the North Korean nuclear threat, Tokyo’s main concern is to use multi-lateral mechanisms, which include the six party talks, to avert potential war escalation. By Japan strengthening its ties with the U.S. in defining its national defense outline, North Korea could feel pressured to act irrationally. This is why Japan’s security lies on creative, careful diplomatic initiatives. 

 Through this paper I discussed how the international system changed from the bipolar world dominated by the Soviet Union and the U.S. to the current international system of American hegemony. Japan is now in talks of revising its war-renouncing constitution. Though pre 1991 the idea of changing Article 9 was considered taboo, after the Gulf War, the Japanese public and media began to discuss the possibilities of revising Article 9. The basic concern of changing the constitution is to identify the role of the SDF and ensure Japan’s ability to act internationally for collective defense. The Japanese hope that by revising their non-aggressive constitution they will be able to support the UN in PKO and attain a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. They also hope that their U.S.-Japan security treaty will be strengthened by Japan being able to play a more active role.

Works Cited List

1) Anderson, Stephen J. “Postwar Political Orders in Japan.”  Postwar Political Orders in the G7. University of Wisconsin, 1995
2) BBC. “Japanese Premier says Constitutional Revision To Clarify Right to Self-Defense.” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 2004
3) Christensen, Thomas J. China, the U.S.-Japan Alliance, and the Security Dilemma in East Asia. MIT press, 1999
4) Foreign Press Center Japan. “Japan’s Response to North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Statement.” <hhtp://>, 2005
5) Hein, Laura E. “Growth Versus Success.” Postwar Japan as History. Gordon, Andrew. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993
6) Herzog, Peter J. Japan’s Pseudo-Democracy. New York University Press, 1993
7) Itoh, Mayumi. “Japanese Constitutional Revision: A Neo-Liberal Proposal for Article 9 in Comparative Politics.” Asian Survey Vol. 41, No.2. University of California Press, 2001
8) Japan Economic Newswire. “Article 9 obstacle to Japan-U.S. Alliance.” Kyodo News Service. Lexis Nexis, 2004
9) Johnston, Eric. “U.S. Looks too Expand Japan’s Military Role.” The Japan Times Online.<hhtp://> 2005
10) Kitazume, Takashi. “ Bush in Second Term Turning Attention Back to Asia.” The Japan Times Online, 2005
11) Okubo, Yoshio. “Political Pulse.” The Yomiuri Shimbun. Lexis-Nexis, 2005
12) Shimoyachi, Nao. “Public Gradually More Accepting of Constitutional Change.” The Japan Times. 2005
13) Yomiuri Shimbun. “Business World Backs Constitutional Revision.” The Daily Yomiuri. Lexis-Nexis, 2004
14) Xinbo, Wu. “The Security Dilemma of Sino-Japanese Relations: Warily Watching One Another.” Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 2. University of California Press, 2000













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