June 12, 2009

Is Article 9 too good, and too unrealistic to last?

I don’t think there is such a thing as a good war even though Studs Terkel might disagree with me. I believe there are some wars that are necessary. World War II would fall into that category. For all those non-history students, that was the war that featured the United States as the good guys and Japan as one of the bad guys. After they were on the receiving end of two atomic bombs with more in the offing, Japan decided wisely to save the lives of perhaps a million more soldiers and civilians, and surrendered. They also wisely included later in their new constitution, article 9, which forbade maintaining military forces ever again.

Article 9 has remained in the constitution for sixty years, and the Japanese people have been happy with the decision they made. But sadly it seems, article 9 has run head long into the 21st century and they may reluctantly have to drop what may turn out to have been a Japanese version of Camelot, a place where it doesn’t rain until after sundown and by eight a.m. the sunlight must appear, a fairy tale. As it was in Camelot outside forces disrupted what was a wise, and beautiful moment, it may also be coming to Japan.

The changing and ever more dangerous world has come to Japan’s door and questions their non-participation in helping police the more belligerent members of the world community. It’s sad because if it is not changed by 2010, you can rest assured that more efforts will follow until they, which ironically includes the U.S., are successful and article 9 will fall into legend and become a tale the Japanese will tell their grandchildren. A tale of what some will remember as a dream that could not last.


Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution not only forbids the use of force as a means to settling international disputes but also forbids Japan from maintaining an army, navy or air force. Therefore, in strictly legal terms, the Self Defense Forces are not land, sea or air forces, but are extensions of the national police force. This has had broad implications for foreign, security and defense policy. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government has interpreted Article 9 as renouncing the use of warfare in international disputes but not the internal use of force for the purpose of maintaining law and order. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) tends to concur with the government's interpretation. At the same time, both parties have advocated the revision of Article 9 by adding an extra clause explicitly authorizing the use of force for the purpose of self-defense against aggression directed against the Japanese nation. The now-defunct Japan Socialist Party (JSP), on the other hand, had considered the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) as unconstitutional and advocated the full implementation of Article 9 through the demilitarization of Japan. When the party joined with the LDP to form a coalition government, it reversed its position and recognized the JSDF as a structure that was constitutional. The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) considers the JSDF unconstitutional and has called for reorganization of Japanese defense policy to feature an armed militia.

Since the late-1990s, Article 9 has been the central feature of a dispute over the ability of Japan to undertake multilateral military commitments overseas. During the late 1980s, increases in government appropriations for the JSDF averaged more than 5 percent per year. By 1990 Japan was ranked third, behind the then-Soviet Union and the United States, in total defense expenditures, and the United States urged Japan to assume a larger share of the burden of defense of the western Pacific. Given these circumstances, some have viewed Article 9 as increasingly irrelevant. It has remained, however, an important brake on the growth of Japan's military capabilities. Despite the fading of bitter wartime memories, the general public, according to opinion polls, continued to show strong support for this constitutional provision.

The majority of Japanese citizens approve the spirit of Article 9 and consider it personally important.[8][9] But since the 1990s, there has been a shift away from a stance that would tolerate no alteration of the article to allowing a revision that would resolve the discord between the JSDF and Article 9.[10][11] Additionally, quite a few citizens consider that Japan should allow itself to commit the Self-Defense Forces to collective defense efforts, like those agreed to on the UN Security Council in the Gulf War, for instance.[12] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marked the 60th anniversary of the Japanese Constitution in 2007 by calling for a bold review of the document to allow the country to take a larger role in global security and foster a revival of national pride.[13]

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