Author: Yasuo Hasebe, Waseda University
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal to amend Article 9 of Japan’s constitution courts uncertainties that could undermine established understandings on the use of military force. In July 2014, the Abe administration declared that the right of collective self-defence — considered unconstitutional by previous administrations — is constitutional when the rights of Japanese people are jeopardised because of military attacks against close allies. After this forcible change to a long-held and repeatedly confirmed authoritative view, formal amendments to the constitution threaten to undermine constitutionalism even further.
On 3 May 2017, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his intention to revise Article 9 of the constitution. One of his proposals is to add a new sentence that will make it clear that the government can keep its Self-Defence Forces (SDF), while maintaining the first and second clauses. He mentioned that he hopes to see the new sentence come into effect in 2020. Article 9 currently states that, ‘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’ and that ‘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 recognised’.
Since he was appointed as the 96th Prime Minister in December 2012, Abe has been reticent about proposing specific amendments to the constitution, though he has criticised the rigidity of the amendment process. Article 96 demands that amendments be initiated through a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all members of each house of the Diet and then ratified via national referendum. Since May, Abe has appeared uncharacteristically impetuous in proposing a revision in Article 9, which is the very core of pacifism in the constitution.