Ja­pan’s con­sti­tu­tional al­ba­tross

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The ap­proach of the 70th an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s de­feat in World War II has sparked much dis­cus­sion – and lamen­ta­tion – of East Asia’s resur­gent his­tor­i­cal feuds. But re­cent ten­sions in the re­gion may partly re­flect a lack of progress in an­other, over­looked area: Ja­panese con­sti­tu­tional re­form. In­deed, de­spite the pow­er­less­ness so vividly high­lighted by the Is­lamic State’s be­head­ing of two Ja­panese hostages, Ja­pan has not adopted even one amend­ment to the “peace con­sti­tu­tion” that the oc­cu­py­ing Amer­i­can forces im­posed on it in 1947.

At first glance, this may not be al­to­gether sur­pris­ing. Af­ter all, the con­sti­tu­tion served an im­por­tant pur­pose: by guar­an­tee­ing that Ja­pan would not pose a mil­i­tary threat in the fu­ture, it en­abled the coun­try fi­nally to es­cape for­eign oc­cu­pa­tion and pur­sue re­build­ing and democrati­sa­tion. But con­sider this: Ger­many adopted an Al­lied-ap­proved con­sti­tu­tion un­der sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances in 1949, to which it has since made dozens of amend­ments.

More­over, whereas Ger­many’s con­sti­tu­tion, or Ba­sic Law, au­tho­rised the use of mil­i­tary force in self-de­fense or as part of a col­lec­tive se­cu­rity agree­ment, Ja­pan’s con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lated full and per­ma­nent re­lin­quish­ment of “the threat or use of force as a means of set­tling in­ter­na­tional dis­putes.” Ja­pan is the only coun­try in the world bound by such re­stric­tions – im­posed not just to pre­vent a mil­i­tarist re­vival, but also to pun­ish Ja­pan for its wartime gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies – and con­tin­ued ad­her­ence to them is un­re­al­is­tic.

That is why Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe has made con­sti­tu­tional re­form a high pri­or­ity. Hav­ing ce­mented his author­ity in De­cem­ber’s snap gen­eral elec­tion, in which his Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party won a de­ci­sive victory, Abe is determined to pur­sue his goal of build­ing a stronger, more com­pet­i­tive Ja­pan – one that can hold its own against an in­creas­ingly mus­cu­lar China.

Abe’s ef­fort to “nor­malise” Ja­pan’s strate­gic pos­ture be­gan with a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Ar­ti­cle 9 of the con­sti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to which the coun­try would hence­forth be al­lowed to en­gage in “col­lec­tive self-de­fense.” Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ment

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