Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe responds to questions in the Lower House Budget Committee on Jan. 30. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed military restraint in defending his proposal to revise pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution against criticism from opposition parties and within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Countering concerns that his suggested amendment would increase the chances of Japan entering a war overseas, Abe emphasized that his proposal would not allow for unrestricted exercise of the right to collective self-defense.

The prime minister was asked on Jan. 30 in the Lower House Budget Committee about his proposal, first raised in May 2017 to add wording to Article 9 that clearly defines the existence of the Self-Defense Forces but to leave unchanged the two current paragraphs.

“That change would not allow for a full spec exercise of the right to collective self-defense,” Abe said.

The second paragraph of Article 9 states in part that Japan will never possess war potential, such as land, sea or air forces.

Abe said that if the second paragraph is left untouched, restrictions on the exercise of the right to collective self-defense contained in the 2015 national security laws would remain firmly in place.

The three conditions included in the national security legislation for the exercise of the right to collective self-defense are: 1) a clear danger exists that threatens Japan’s survival; 2) there are no measures besides military force to deal with the situation; and 3) the use of force would be restricted to the minimum level needed.

Opposition parties have blasted Abe’s Article 9 revision proposal, saying it would effectively make the second paragraph a dead letter and allow the SDF to use military force overseas without any restrictions.

They also point out that it was the Abe administration that pushed through the national security legislation that allowed for the first time a change in the long-held government interpretation that banned the exercise of the right to collective self-defense.

The opposition parties say any constitutional revision under Abe would only lead to a further expansion of the SDF’s role.

The prime minister was also highly aware of the doubts raised in the LDP about his proposal, especially from Shigeru Ishiba, a potential rival to Abe in the next party presidential election.

Ishiba, a former defense minister who is knowledgeable about national security issues, has long called for eliminating the second paragraph and clearly stating that the SDF is a military.

Abe said in the Lower House Budget Committee that a constitutional revision written on the lines of Ishiba’s arguments could end up giving Japan free range in exercising the right to collective self-defense.

The prime minister suggested that his proposal was better because it is more restrictive.

The LDP’s Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters is continuing discussions that include both Abe’s proposal as well as an older one about eliminating the second paragraph of Article 9.