A dangerous courseJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set year 2020, when the nation hosts the Tokyo Olympics, as the year a revised Constitution will take effect in Japan. He was more or less declaring a specific timetable to walk away from the postwar pacifist Constitution and legally revive the right for the nation to participate in war if necessary. But Abe’s push for constitutional revision without genuine atonement for past aggressions and a credible pledge not to repeat them will only jeopardize regional peace and stability and create suspicion in neighboring countries.
Abe pushes for constitutional reform by claiming it is the duty of his generation to legitimize the right to self-defense and expand the role of the so-called self-defense forces. He cites the escalating threat from North Korea and tense geopolitical conditions as reasons for reinforcing Japan’s right to self-defense. But what he really wants is to use the North Korean risk as an excuse to push ahead with constitutional reform and extend his rule.
Abe has backtracked from his earlier hard-line stance and offered to keep intact Clause 1 and 2 of Article 9 — a keystones of the postwar constitution, in which Japan not only renounces war, but declares that never again will it have land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential — while making an exception for the Self Defence Force. He was temporarily compromising in order not to further irk the opposition and public.
But in essence, he wants to include the Self Defense Force in the new constitution to make it a legitimate military power. The Self Defense Force founded in 1954 has expanded to a formidable force with 250,000 soldiers. But its existence has been questioned because it is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution. Abe wants to make the force legitimate first and then make it a formal national defense force.
The country’s pacifist constitution has turned 70 years old. Japan over the years has contributed to peace and prosperity in the region. Before he pushes ahead with constitutional reform, Abe should seriously consider the concerns and suspicions of neighboring countries and try to appease them first.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 4, Page 30