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Article 9: What is it and why should we care?

A brief introduction to Article 9: What is it and why does it matter?

By 4 min read

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution has been the focus of much debate, both nationally and internationally. But what exactly is it? Here’s a brief introduction to set you off down the long and winding road of Japanese constitutional clauses.

What is Article 9?

So, what is Article 9? Buckle up. We’re going to be in for a long and bumpy ride. Article 9 states that Japan forever renounces “war as a sovereign right.” Meaning? The country is not allowed to start or go to war. In order to achieve this the Article says that Japan must never maintain land, sea and air forces. Article 9 came into law shortly after World War II – a simple promise: never again.

But Japan has a military…

Yes. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a slight paradox between Article 9 and modern Japan; namely, that it does have a standing military. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2015, Japan was ranked 8th in the world for military spending. Japan’s military, known as the Self-Defense Force (SDF), is allowed because of a politically ratified interpretation of Article 9. To add to the complexity, this very interpretation is also currently under debate.

[…]in 2015, Japan was ranked 8th in the world for military spending.

Essentially, people are debating about how they can debate about something. If you’re confused, that’s because you should be.

50 Shades of Interpretation

If understanding Article 9 was a bumpy ride, then grasping the interpretation is a blindfolded turn on a roller coaster attempting to carry fine china plates. Way back in the 1960s, before PPAP was a thing, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that the country was allowed a self-defense force, but that it wasn’t supposed to come to the aid of other countries under attack. This is because, in theory, it should not hold offensive capabilities (you know, because of the whole “renouncing the right to go to war” thing). Article 9 is interpreted to allow the existence of the SDF as long as its sole purpose is to defend Japan.

Earlier this year however, new security laws came into effect that expanded the capacities of the SDF to include military planning and training that would enable it to play an increasingly significant role in overseas conflicts – particularly when supporting U.S.-led operations – sparking concern that Abe was paving the way for a revocation of Article 9.

Only last month, SDF forces were sent to South-Sudan under a U.N. mission with the goal of “coming to rescue of others under attack.” The government insisted that the fighting in Sudan was not defined as military conflict under Japan’s peacekeeping law, despite the risks of the SDF needing to engage in combat.

But there were questions about whether Japan’s contribution was technically legal. In order for Japan to aid a peacekeeping mission, the law states that a cease-fire agreement should first be in place, which, there wasn’t.

Why is Article 9 so important?

As you can imagine, a law that stops a country going to war is pretty significant. For Japan, Article 9 is more than a law. It has become an integral part of the way Japanese people view their own national identity. Some commentators have even gone so far as to herald Article 9 as a “gift to humanity”, and its existence is as important to Japan as it is to other nations.

Article 9 is important not only because of its socio-cultural implications, but also as the key for the political future of Japan – if it were to be altered or removed in a way that could turn Japan’s path away from peace, we’d likely see a new age of political upheaval in Asia.

What does the future hold for Article 9?

With growing internal and external pressure to see Article 9 adjusted, it is unknown what the future might hold for the legislation.

Abe has long since vocalized his disdain for Article 9, and his desire to dismantle it by changing the Japanese constitution. One of his justifications for doing this is to finally be able to fulfill mandates from the United Nations (as demonstrated by the SDF’s involvement in peacekeeping operations). Abe’s attempted changes would not only create an official armed forces, under the control of the Prime Minister, but would also allow the government to send forces overseas in a more proactive fashion.

Perhaps the greatest benefactor, if Article 9 were changed, would be America. President-elect Trump has already voiced his concern over its limitations, accusing Japan of not being able to do anything if America was attacked. The recent meeting between Abe and Trump likely had the future of the US-Japan Alliance on the table, and given the rumors saying that Trump hopes to make Abe his “man in Asia”,  Abe may likely use Trump as his international backup to make the changes he wants.

  • Ashwin Campbell says:

    Sorry, article 9 was basically forced upon Japan by the Allied forces during WWII. Japan agreed to it to get us out of their country, for the most part, as quickly as possible. I personally think that having a military is a good thing. It will create new jobs, and allow us to live peacefully while China tries to take over Asia.

    • Alex Sturmey says:

      Hello Ashwin. Thanks for your comment. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. In the beginning article 9 was originally written by the occupying us forces. However, around the time that the original occupation was being moved out, on several occasions Japan was “strongly asked” to actually rescind the law. Each time, it refused to do so. There’s also been a lot of strong resistance throughout the years to its change. It’s strongly engrained in Japanese political culture. I can get the direct source for this soon for you. I need to go back through my notes to find it.

  • Dale Goodwin says:

    What the article fails to mention is that with the new security bills passed, Japan has already started moving in this direction without needing to change the constitution – just like it did when the Self-defense forces were created. In the world of 2016, Japan can no longer stand by as America fights their battles and remain a responsible member of the global community. Many people seem to sincerely believe that Abe wants to throw out or at least revise Japan’s contitution of “peace.” I believe that he just wants to take Japan into a future where it can take care of itself without relying on others to come to its aid.

    • Kenii says:

      That depends on what you mean by taking Japan “into a future where it can take care of itself.” After all, no nation can or would ever tell every other ally to back off while it defends itself. No nation would refuse aid from other nations because it thinks it can “take care of itself.” Why do you think the U.S. is goading Japan for assistance? Doesn’t that mean that even a global powerhouse like the U.S.A. can’t take care of itself either? And if no nation can, why hold Japan to that impossible standard?

      I assume you’re implying that Japan should strengthen its military so it can do a better job of defending itself. That’s a slippery slope, though, because how much military would be sufficient? That’s very subjective. Do they have to be as strong as the U.S. and Russia? Remember, the SDF exists for self-defense. It’s literally designed to defend Japan (to take care of itself). Also note that I’ve been focusing on defense because I believe that’s the extent that Japan should ever go. The notion that Japan should join America in its battles constitutes offense, which (in my opinion) goes well beyond taking care of itself. Although, America tends to love conflating the two because it helps justify their actions as “correct,” and “heroic.”

      By the way, strengthening the military enough to assist countries like the U.S. in battles overseas requires a drastic change in culture and philosophy. Abe may not be throwing out or revising “Japan’s constitution of ‘peace'” directly, but he would be changing people’s attitudes toward it, which is even more powerful. That’s what people fear. It requires asking people who generally want to live peacefully by avoiding conflict to start killing other human beings overseas. What’s even scarier is that it’s not hard to do. Notice how Americans have already convinced people that their battles make them “a responsible member of the global community” (your words). They have to spin that narrative to encourage their own citizens (and allies) to engage in global warfare…and it works! Yet, I can assure you that there are plenty of people who don’t feel that way about America (and its battles) at all. After all, the last time Japan actively assisted its allies in battle…well…let’s just say it didn’t end well, and many Japanese suffered as a result.

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