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.