Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 3 announced his plan to pursue the first-ever amendment to the Constitution, saying, “I want to see a revised Constitution come into force in 2020.”

His blueprint for rewriting the Constitution calls for adding a paragraph to Article 9 stipulating the status of the Self-Defense Forces clearly.

Abe may be betting that it will be relatively easy to win broad public support for a proposal to create a constitutional provision confirming the clear legal status of the SDF, which is firmly established and widely supported by the public.

But we cannot support his proposal, which could fundamentally change Japan’s identity as a pacifist nation.

The constitutionality of the SDF has consistently been endorsed by successive Cabinets through their interpretations of the Constitution.

The first paragraph of Article 9 stipulates Japan’s renunciation of war, while the second paragraph bans the nation from maintaining armed forces.

Although these paragraphs may appear to prohibit Japan from resorting to military use in any situation, they don’t ban the government from using armed force to protect the lives and freedom of the people from foreign attacks, which is its most important responsibility, according to the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution. To defend itself, the government has claimed, Japan is allowed to maintain minimum necessary armed forces and make minimum use of their capabilities as an exception to Article 9.

This interpretation concerns Japan’s use of its right to individual self-defense to counter armed attacks against itself.

In 2014, however, the Abe administration changed this long-established official interpretation through a Cabinet decision as part of its campaign to enact new national security legislation. The change has opened the door for Japan’s use of its right to collective self-defense in situations where armed attacks against other countries could threaten the nation’s survival.

What needs to be revised is not Article 9, but the Abe administration’s unilateral reinterpretation of Article 9.

Under the Abe administration, the nature of the SDF’s roles and responsibilities has changed radically.

Abe seems to be seeking to have the changed nature of the SDF’s missions endorsed and justified by firmly establishing the status of the SDF in Article 9.

In 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party unveiled its own proposal to amend the Constitution, which called for replacing the current second paragraph of Article 9 with a provision stipulating Japan’s right to self-defense, including collective self-defense.

The political subtext of the LDP’s proposal is the ruling party’s long-cherished ambition to make the SDF full-fledged national armed forces like the militaries of other countries.

During a Diet session on May 8, Abe said he had no intention of retracting the party’s draft of constitutional amendments.

When juxtaposed with the LDP’s proposal, Abe’s plan to add a new paragraph about the SDF’s status to Article 9 while keeping the current two paragraphs intact may seem a moderate and reasonable idea.

But the implications of the two paragraphs of Article 9 are not consistent with an SDF that is allowed to engage in collective self-defense operations.

Abe’s proposal could seriously undermine the foundation of Japan’s postwar pacifist credo and is different by nature from, for example, an amendment to add a provision about a new concept of human rights.

Formal debate on any proposal to initiate an amendment to the Constitution should, in the first place, be held at the Commissions on the Constitution in both houses of the Diet.

By unilaterally naming a specific article as the target of his amendment initiative, Abe, the head of the administrative branch, risks causing confusion in discussions at these commissions, which have been placing much importance on bipartisan cooperation.

Another questionable element in Abe’s move is that he set 2020, when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics, as the target year for the proposed constitutional amendment.

This sounds like a declaration of his desire to accomplish his constitutional ambition during his term as prime minister with his sights firmly set on re-election as LDP president for a third term.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 9