[OUTLOOK]Let Japan Alter Its Pacifist Constitution

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[OUTLOOK]Let Japan Alter Its Pacifist Constitution

Japan's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, came to power last month promising to rewrite his country's pacifist constitution to give Japan a real army.

America's deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, visiting Tokyo shortly afterward, hinted that Japan should rewrite the constitution and assume a greater military role in Asian security.

Korea winces. Coupled with the textbooks that distort history and Mr. Koizumi's vow to visit a shrine honoring Imperialist Japan's war dead, the talk of constitutional revision looks like rising nationalism. Korea and all East Asia remember with some bitterness Japan's last fling at military role-playing.

No doubt Mr. Koizumi has gladdened the unreconstructed hearts of some Japanese nationalists. And no doubt the United States has its own reason - containment of China - for urging Japan to take a more active military role in Asia. But there is also a liberal case to be made for rewriting the pacifist constitution as a step toward Japan's growing up and joining the community of "normal" nations.

Japan is not now normal. It has been said that "Japan is an economic giant but a political pyg-my." The same was once said of Germany: World War II deprived both countries of international legitimacy. The world wanted Japanese and German aid, trade and investment, but their political contributions could wait until the war aggressors were rehabilitated in the world's eyes. That has now happened for Germany, which is increasingly an agenda-setter as well as a paymaster for Europe. But it has not happened for Japan. What holds Japan back?

An article on this page last month quote the former German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, on the subject of Japan. Because of its inability to come to terms with World War II, which would in-clude acknowledging the crimes of Japanese imperialism, Japan not only "lacks friends all over the world," but "has no real foreign policy," Mr. Schmidt noted. The contrast with Germany was unstated but obvious: Germany, having acknowledged the crimes of Nazism, had returned to the community of normal nations.

Mr. Schmidt wrote in 1974, nearly 30 years after the end of World War II. After nearly 30 more years, his analysis remains true. Japan has commercial interests that it pursues assiduously, but it undertakes no initiatives and is identified with no policies beyond keeping a low profile and trying to appear agreeable.

It remains America's little brother, content to rely on American peacekeeping for security in Asia. But it assures the Chinese that "abstract human rights" are not all that important. It tells the Koreans that a little thing like textbooks should not prevent neighbors from buying and selling. As Mr. Schmidt wrote, "Japan never showed that it understood other countries' criticisms. [It] chose to do nothing."

Japan's pacifist constitution is not the cause of the country's passivity, but it may be a symptom. The charter was written by Douglas MacArthur, commander of the U.S. occupying forces. Surely no other country voluntarily lives under a basic law dictated by its conqueror.

Nevertheless, the constitution and the occupation laws imposed on Japan had considerable advantages for the nation's recovery. They amounted to a revolution from above, imposed by a supreme authority, not a series of political compromises among competing interests. General MacArthur knew what Japan needed, and he bestowed it: a free press, free labor unions and a democratically elected government with power divided between executive and legislative offices. No one is proposing to change any of this.

MacArthur also knew that Japan needed to break with its militaristic past. He provided that break in the constitutional provisions renouncing the right to make war and limiting the armed forces to national defense. Japan's Asian neighbors, Korea among them, have slept more easily the past half-century knowing that these restrictions were in place.

Then why change them? If constitutional pacifism has worked so well in keeping the Japanese out of trouble, perhaps it is time to encourage other countries, starting with the United States and China, to adopt pacifist constitutions.

A constitution is only a piece of parchment. A united people will do what it wants to do, and find a way to declare its actions consistent with its constitution. Japan already has an army larger than any in Asia but China's, and it outspends China on defense. All the constitution really does is declare that Japan is not a fully sovereign nation. It lacks a right that other countries have, the right to make war.

Amending the pacifist portion of the constitution would restore full legal sovereignty to Japan. And with sovereignty would come the obligation to use it responsibly.

That is why it is encouraging that Prime Minister Koizumi has opened the subject for discussion. The first mention of constitutional change may have tickled the fantasies of some right-wingers, but if this project is carried through, debate about the Japanese past, and about the use and misuse of military power, will be inevitable. That can only be healthy for Japan.

But don't expect too much. A poll this month showed that 74 percent of Japanese are against amending the constitution, and Mr. Koizumi is a politician; he will not buck popular opinion. What Tokyo needs is a Japanese MacArthur in civilian clothes, a leader with the stature to dominate debate and carry public opinion.

Give Mr. Koizumi credit for trying. "Saying the self-defense forces aren't an army is just a lie," he said last month as he took office. "In the very worst case, if Japan is invaded, not being fully equipped and prepared is politically irresponsible."

He also showed sensitivity to the point Mr. Schmidt made in 1974 about Japan's estrangement from the world. "Why did we get involved in [World War II]?" he asked. "Because Japan became isolated from international society. What is most important is that we do not fight a war again, and do not again become internationally isolated."

These are not the words of resurgent military imperialism. We should applaud constitutional debate in Japan, and if the outcome is abandonment of pacifism, we should congratulate the Japanese on their recovery of sovereignty and encourage them to use it wisely.


The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by Hal Piper

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