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Last Updated: 07/07/2014Japan weakens its commitment to constitutional pacifism
The Japanese government's recent reinterpretation of the constitution without the full participation of the people, jeopardizes the peace that japan has enjoyed for the past 60 years and raises regional tensions. Historian and peace scholar Takuo Namisashi comments.
On 1st July 2014, the Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe decided on a reinterpretation of the constitution in order to allow the government to pursue a policy of collective self-defence, despite significant opposition by the people. As a peace scholar, who is studying Japanese peace thoughts and its history at the University for Peace, it is a shame to see my country setback its pacifism, and to expand its interests in military armament. However, this is not the first “reinterpretation” of the constitution. The establishment of the Self Defence Force, which is a de facto military force, can be said the product of reinterpretation of Japanese Constitution Article 9.
The mechanism of having a Self Defence Force is that the constitution does not clearly prohibit, and could be interpreted to allow for maintaining a minimum level of armed forces. This interpretation has been the assumption of the Japanese defence policy, and has been the reason that the constitution has not been changed, despite the maintenance of armed forces. The process of reinterpretation does not necessarily involve the people, while an amendment of the Constitution would necessitate a national vote. It is doubtful, therefore, that this decision is an expression of the people’s will, although Japan is a democratic state and the Cabinet member are the members of the Diet, who are elected in each political district by the people. The interpretation of the constitution can be a political, as the meaning of constitution can be decided in a closed session, which was, in this case, a Cabinet meeting. Moreover, it is not yet clear if the citizens will force a dissolution of the Diet, which is the only way that people can directly express their wills through voting. Therefore, the people are currently located outside of the discussion and just hoping that the discussion within the Diet will reflect the people’s will.
The risk of this reinterpretation by the Cabinet is the government is now allowed to maintain or change its defence policy under the name of self-defence. As an extreme example, the Cabinet could decide to enact military conscription service. Thus, this case of reinterpretation for the allowance the collective self-defence carries significant impacts for the people of Japan, but it has also impacted the world, and especially the region, by signalling that Japanese pacifism can be easily abolished by a very limited number of politicians. This changes the security calculations of other powers in the region as well.
Considering the fact that there are opinions that oppose and support this reinterpretation and the attempt to strengthen the Japanese defence policy, it would be an error to one-sidedly criticise the government without also considering the other opinions of citizens; this would also be denying the democracy. However, even within those dualistic opinions, I would like to raise my concern about the sentiment expressed by supporters of the cabinet decision, that those against the decision are “Anti-Japanese” or “traitors”, which is same sentiment of the military regime period in Japan during the World War II, when those who were against to the war were called “unpatriotic” and discriminated against.
As a peace scholar, I believe that peace with pacifism is an essential part of the history of Japan, and that it is patriotic to defend it. Here, I wish to raise the statement of UNESCO in 1948 written by eight distinguished social scientists about the causes of tensions which make for war, and which fits to current Japanese society:
Economic inequalities, insecurities and frustrations create group and national conflicts. All this is an important source of tensions which have often wrongly led one group to see another group as a menace through the acceptance of false images and over-simplified solutions and by making people susceptible to the scapegoating appeals of demagogues.
This statement, written in 1948, is still relevant to the current situation of both Japanese domestically and internationally. As the statement suggests, to avoid aggression, it is necessary to plan and arrange the use of modern productive power and resources so that there will be maximum of social justice, which in this case includes both the political system to arrange people, and diplomatic resources to reduce the tensions. To plan and arrange for the collective self-defence, I wish my government to open the space for full democratic participation within the country, and also to interact with neighbouring states in a peaceful, diplomatic method, not just giving up such efforts and showing a deterrence force. My hope is for my home country to keep and enjoy the peace it has worked so hard to build and maintain over the past 60 years.
 Mie, A. (2014, July 1st). Abe wins battle to broaden defense policy. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/07/01/national/coalition-agrees-on-scrapping-pacifist-postwar-defense-policy/#article_history
 Ministry of Justice. (n.d.). Japanese Law Translation Database System: the Constitution of Japan. Retrieved from http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?id=174&vm=04&re=02&new=1
 Ministry of Defence (n.d.). Fundamental Concept of National Defense. Retrieved from http://www.mod.go.jp/e/d_act/d_policy/dp01.html
 Japanese parliament
 My personal feeling by reading the news article.
 United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. (1948). We, the Undersigned….A Statement by eight distinguished social scientists on the causes of tensions which make for war. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001582/158269eb.pdf
Takuo Namisashi is a Doctoral candidate University for Peace.