AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Japan’s constitutional yoga

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

SO SANG JOHN LENNON more than 35 years ago, and while those who have to deal with the world the way it is would find it difficult to conjure up that vision in their imagination, we shouldn’t be as hard on him as some commentators on the Right have been over the past few years. Not only was he a product of the times, but by the time he wrote those lines, Lennon’s enormous celebrity had swollen his head to such an extent his eyes were no longer in focus.

He’s not the only one who’s been bested by his own inflated ideals over the years. Take this, for example:

We have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.

That hopeful expression of trust is from the Preface to Japan’s Constitution. It’s probably the only constitution of a free market democracy that contains the expression “peace-loving peoples”. To show how serious they were about this particular fantasy, the people who wrote the Constitution continued in this vein:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, 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 recognized.

That, of course is the Constitution’s famous (or infamous) Article 9. Political leaders who have to deal with the real world can’t spare the time for imagining that scenario—taking it seriously would be fatal–but perhaps we shouldn’t be as hard on the authors as some commentators on the Right have been. Not only were these sentences a product of the times, but by the time the authors wrote those lines, after 12 straight years in control of America’s Executive and Legislative branches, FDR’s New Dealers had become so intoxicated by success their eyes were no longer in focus.

Unfortunately, they were too busy using their imagination to foresee the aggressive nationalism of 21st century China, which combines the worst aspects of Marxism, capitalism, and Manifest Destiny, or the malignant growth of 21st century North Korea, which combines the worst aspects of Stalinism, pure land Koreanism, and oddball religious cults.

What is a country to do? In Japan’s case, they’ve turned to the practice of constitutional yoga, twisting the text into political asanas to create interpretive results that don’t seem possible at first, or even second, glance.

A case in point was the recommendation earlier this month of a Japanese government panel headed by Shunji Yanai, a former ambassador to the U.S., for the Japanese response to an ICBM fired at the U.S. Though the Japanese government’s current interpretation is that the Constitution prohibits collective self-defense, taking action in such instances to defend an ally is allowed under international law. In fact, coming to terms with the Constitution in today’s world is so difficult that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has written the government’s current interpretation prevents Japan from initiating action even when it has information that a missile is about to be launched into Japanese territory.

The panel reached the consensus that any legal system preventing Japan from action would be absurd. They recommended the government be allowed to intercept a missile headed for U.S. territory based on this reasoning:

  • Intercepting missiles in space over international waters would not constitute an exercise of force in foreign territory.
  • The Constitution specifically forbids the use of force to “settle international disputes”, but this would be a humanitarian act that is not for the purpose of settling an international dispute.
  • If the missile were North Korean, it would violate the 2002 Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration. Therefore, intercepting the missile would constitute self-defense.

Last month, the same panel suggested that the Constitution could be reinterpreted to allow Japanese naval vessels to defend American ships if attacked in international waters.

It should be obvious that any nation should not have to jump through such interpretive hoops to fulfill its obligations to its citizens, much less its allies. That should make it equally obvious Japan’s Constitution has reached its “sell by” date, as a recent commentator had it, and needs to be amended.

Some observers overseas—and even some in Japan, who should know better—claim that the country is long overdue for a domestic debate on the issue, but that overlooks the ongoing discussion in the country since the current Constitution was enacted. Indeed, the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party was founded more than 50 years ago with the adoption of a new constitution one of its central planks.

Numerous drafts have been offered over the years. In fact, Ichiro Ozawa, then the head of the Liberal Party, a short-lived splinter group, presented his own draft constitution in the pages of the monthly Bungei Shunju in 1999. It clearly stated that Japan had the right to self-defense and the obligation to actively contribute to world peace.

madisonyoga250.jpg

His draft was attacked by Yukio Hatoyama, then head of the Democratic Party of Japan, the primary opposition party, for being “nationalistic”. But Hatoyama offered his own draft constitution in the same magazine that would explicitly permit the use of “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential”.

The expression “war potential” also has presented some knotty interpretative problems over the years, until it was decided that military forces for self-defense did not fall under the rubric of “war potential”.

The comedic aspect of this particular tragicomedy is that Ozawa, who once pulled the strings behind the scenes in LDP governments, has now become the head of the DPJ and is leading the party’s campaign in the upcoming upper house election. That means he’s now opposing what he once supported.

The tragic aspect is the failure of Japan’s opposition parties to participate in a meaningful discussion of the matter with the ruling party over the years. Ozawa also has suggested adding a third clause to Article 9 enabling a separate military force exclusively for UN peacekeeping duties. And since becoming head of the DPJ, Ozawa now claims that Article 9 does not have to be rewritten at all—it can just continue to be reinterpreted.

In other words, more constitutional yoga.

If this debate were taking place in the United States, some participants might invoke the intent of the Constitution’s framers. That won’t pass muster in Japan, of course, because the founding fathers in this case—at least those with the ultimate responsibility–were on General MacArthur’s staff during the Allied occupation.

An additional complication is that while a majority of Japanese tell pollsters that they favor a new Constitution, only a minority favors amending Article 9. It’s not easy to determine precise percentages—one Yomiuri Shimbun poll claimed that more than 40% approved of changing Article 9, while one Asahi Shimbun poll pegged that percentage at 9%. In other words, polls reveal more about the editorial positions of the newspapers rather than the position of the people.

I suspect there are three reasons for the desire by many Japanese to maintain the status quo. First, the Constitution has in fact inculcated a sense of pacifism in part of the population. Second, there is the traditional Japanese attitude of ignoring disputes outside the country. This view is revealed in the expression taigan no kaji (A fire on the other bank of the river). And third, an attitude commonplace throughout Europe also has taken root in Japan. Protected by the American nuclear umbrella, part of the population focuses on the secondary impulses of society rather than its primary responsibilities. The prosperity and peace that have flourished under the American military shield have so dulled the perceptions of some that they figure things are just fine the way they are. They too have come to imagine there’s nothing to kill or die for.

But it’s inevitable that the people of the third group will someday find their daydream rudely interrupted—as Leon Trotsky once said, you may not be very interested in war, but war is very interested in you. The status quo doesn’t stay that way forever, prosperity and peace are never guaranteed, and there are always those in the world who would sooner wipe their backsides with someone else’s constitution than read it.

Imagine that.

The DPJ is now running an election campaign to appeal to the latter two groups by claiming that issues of daily life are the most important consideration. That may not be what Ichiro Ozawa and many in the DPJ really believe, but Ozawa has essentially been an American-style machine politician for most of his career. Power is always more important than principle for that type of pol.

There is also the tendency for the political opposition in this country to behave as if they take the word “opposition” literally. Regardless of their actual principles, assuming any such exist, their knees jerk in opposition to whatever the ruling party or coalition proposes. We see how Mr. Ozawa’s position has evolved from a stance nearly identical to that held by many in the LDP to being a supporter of the status quo the further his orbit took him from the center of power.

Still, a new constitution for Japan is a matter of when, not if, and the forces that are striving for that end will eventually succeed. The questions are how long it will take them (a while yet), and what form the new constitution will take (by no means settled). It is also to be hoped that a situation does not arise in the meantime that presents a clear danger to the country before a general consensus has been reached.

Enacting a new constitution will mean that a consensus has been reached because the new text will require the consent of the people in a referendum. Until that happens, Japan will not see itself as a normal country, regardless of the content of the Peace Clause or any other article. Some people might like it just the way it is, but the only way to reach adulthood as a modern nation (a state, as some on the Right insist) is to cut the psychological apron strings to the United States and take responsibility for themselves.

“Normal country”…does that sound as if it’s some sort of sneaky code for remilitarized nationalism cooked up by that arch ultra-conservative Shinzo Abe?

Nah. That was Ichiro Ozawa’s expression. Once upon a time.

9 Responses to “Japan’s constitutional yoga”

  1. Aceface said

    Check the today’s NYT.Look for video called “Rearming Japan”.
    Sadly,it’s not from our man in Times,Norimitsu Ohnishi.
    But we’ve got some new boys here.Calvin Sims and Matthew Orr(who?)
    Their story is pretty much the same old story sirca 1952……

  2. Aceface said

    My bad.Our man did wrote a piece in NYT on 24th…..
    Titled “Japan’s provocative military worries neighbors”!

    Our neighbor such like South Korea might be all worried about JSDF sending three C130 Hercules to Kuwait to transport daily goods to Iraq,that explaines us why they are dispatching third largest troops in the coalition,probably to protect themselves from sudden Kamikaze attack conducted by Japanese transporters.

    Our neighbor North Korea must be all worried about JSDF doing joint exercise in Guam with the F2 fighters(First flight in 1995 ,introduced as “newest”in the article),that explains us why they are launching ballistic missiles and testing nukes.Probably protecting themselves from sudden abductee rescue mission conducted from the air….

  3. ampontan said

    I’ve got a weird relationship with the NYT website. I registered once a while ago, but they don’t recognize my username or password. I gave up trying to figure it out. Perhaps I should try again.

  4. ponta said

    You can access them from here.

    http://observingjapan.blogspot.com/2007/07/missing-point-on-japans-normalization.html

  5. 1. Does article 9 prohibit the use of self-defense if Japan were actually attacked? (If applied correctly …)

    2. If we exclude assisting the US, and we exclude UN missions, then can a specific example be given in which Japan would need to use diplomacy by other means (military coercion) in order to resolve a problem other than a direct attack on Japan, itself?

    3. Should Japan revise the constitution to ensure self-defense is acceptable or instead revise the constitution to allow for diplomacy by other means? What is being recommended?

  6. Aceface said

    1.is partly “yes”.Partly is because there is no guidelines of the rules of engagement and there is an argument that neither SDF commanders nor PM do not have rights to make judgement of adressing that the nation is in the state of war.
    We have to bring the case to the diet and discuss whether it can be considered as “attack” and using the force of SDF is desirable.

    2.I can think of two cases.Intrusion or presence of foreign military within territorial waters or sky.Pirates or terrorist attacking foreign vessels or planes with in Japanese territory or
    occuoying embassy.

    3.In my opinion “Yes.We should revise constitution to ensure self-defense is acceptable.”I think the latter would come along with the former.

  7. bender said

    I wonder what’s the agenda behind Onishi’s editorials. Clearly, the sabre-rattling jingoist in the Far East is both Koreas. Japan? Nuts!

  8. T.K said

    Bender,

    To keep my blood pressure down, I try to imagine Onishi as a Stephen Colbert-type comedian. Trying to analyse his agenda seriously just results in brain sprain.

  9. bender said

    1. Does article 9 prohibit the use of self-defense if Japan were actually attacked? (If applied correctly …)

    Art 9, Section 1:
    Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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.

    Section 2: In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, 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 recognized.

    The way I learned it was that “means of settling international disputes” means offensive attacks by the state of Japan to solve issues with other countries. So Japan can defend. But because of Section 2 that denies the “right of belligerency of the state”, Japan cannot claim the “laws of war” to apply (so I guess it’s OK to slaughter Japanese combat troops after their surrender because they don’t have any rights as POWs). Basically, I think this interpretation is still the majority law. Mind-boggling? You bet.

    2. If we exclude assisting the US, and we exclude UN missions, then can a specific example be given in which Japan would need to use diplomacy by other means (military coercion) in order to resolve a problem other than a direct attack on Japan, itself?

    Well, this could be said for any country, can’t it? Just change “US” with any country that one is allied with. The issue is whether Japan has any military ambitions of not. Changing the consitution is probably not a good enough indication that she is.

    3. Should Japan revise the constitution to ensure self-defense is acceptable or instead revise the constitution to allow for diplomacy by other means? What is being recommended?

    Well, I don’t see why it should be only Japan that must contain herself, while other countries do not…it’s a matter for Japan to decide herself. Kind of like the issue of whether to allow gay marriage or not or allow the people to legally smoke pot. It’s within their right of sovereignty to decide. I think the focus should be whether Japan has military ambitions. If not, let them have anything they want. I’d say no, but what’s your call?

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