Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister who is regarded as a potential candidate to replace Shinzo Abe as prime minister next year, is practically the only ruling party heavyweight to voice opposition to Abe’s proposal for constitutional revision.

He is perplexed about Abe's rush to add a clause to pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution that would spell out the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces, a proposal sharply different from the Liberal Democratic Party's draft compiled in 2012.

Ishiba, who is held in high regard for his expertise in security issues, contends that the proposal does not make sense if the preceding paragraph forever renouncing war potential and the right to wage war is left intact.

Above all, he is uncomfortable with the rush for constitutional amendment by relying on the sheer strength of pro-revision forces in the Diet without making strenuous efforts to persuade other parties, as well as the general public, that the changes are needed.

Excerpts from an interview he gave to The Asahi Shimbun follow:

Question: What is your take on Abe’s proposal to add a paragraph to Article 9 asserting the legal status of the SDF?

Ishiba: I cannot comment as I have no idea of what wording is envisaged for the new paragraph. Paragraph 2 (of Article 9) stipulates that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” and the “right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” If a possible Paragraph 3 stated “despite the preceding paragraph,” the clause would be a dead letter because it would be completely at odds with Paragraph 2.

Abe’s proposal does not appear to be a sincere attempt at constitutional amendment (as it sows confusion). In today’s Japan, who is calling the SDF “unconstitutional”? Only a handful of people are doing so, I believe. There may be some meaning to include a paragraph to ratify the status quo, but I am afraid that the addition will only perpetuate the inconsistency.

Q: The LDP's draft revision, compiled in 2012, called for the deletion of Paragraph 2.

A: It is because we found it outlandish to insist that the SDF is not meant to be military for the Japanese audience, although it is for the foreign audience. The LDP suggested that the renunciation of war, which was stipulated in Paragraph 1, "does not prevent Japan from exercising the right to self-defense." What was implied there is that self-defense does not rule out collective self-defense. The inevitable conclusion is that Paragraph 2 should be deleted.

Q: The prime minister apparently believes that his proposal is the only realistic approach to win over Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, which has long insisted on maintaining Paragraphs 1-2.

A: Was his decision to add the paragraph made after having head-on discussions with Komeito? If the prime minister had proposed the addition based on his assumption that there was no other way to get Komeito to agree to the revision proposal, that would be rude to Komeito. When I was the director-general of the Defense Agency, the predecessor of the Defense Ministry, a package of laws related to the SDF was enacted in 2003 to respond to a possible attack on Japan and other emergencies. The then-Democratic Party of Japan also endorsed the legislation. It is not my style to press ahead with constitutional revision merely by relying on the sheer strength of legislators in favor of the revision, which form two-thirds majorities in both Diet chambers--the strength needed to initiate constitutional amendment.

Q: Are you going to enter the race for LDP president in September 2018 by making the revision proposal a campaign issue?

A: It could emerge as a key issue if the party failed to come up with a draft proposal (despite Abe's request). I would rather not let the amendment proposal become a key issue linked to the presidential election, but I will have no choice but to do so depending on how things will play out by that time.

Q: What is your view of holding the Lower House election and a referendum on constitutional revision simultaneously?

A: A referendum should be held separately. I cannot stand the thought of holding the Lower House election under a theme pandering to the general public and ask about amending Article 9 as a package.

Q: Still, few LDP members have voiced their criticism of Abe’s proposal.

A: The prime minister’s thinking must be that he, too, does not to want to revise the Constitution in such a manner, but he cannot help it. What I want to ask Abe is whether he did grapple with the challenge of trying to persuade the public that there is a real need for constitutional revision. He must be an experienced politician and I may be just making an impractical argument. But the nation would have a serious trouble if there had been nobody to say what I am saying. I wonder if lawmakers keeping silent out of self-protection at this point in time will be able to achieve the intended result.