Japan’s ‘Group 13’ Seeks Article 9 Loopholes
Legislators Seek Clarity On Permitted Use of Force
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appear closer to modifying the 60-year-old pledge not to use military force to settle international disputes.
Both the lower and upper house of the Diet, Japan’s legislature, have passed a bill outlining a referendum to amend the constitution’s Article 9. The lower house approved it in April and the upper house approved it earlier this month.
But the public will not vote on the amendment until 2010, giving supporters three years to convince a divided electorate to support it.
In the meantime, a 13-member group led by Shunji Yanai, former Japanese ambassador to the United States, met May 19 to begin looking at how the country might be able to embrace collective defense without modifying the constitution. Group 13 is scheduled to submit its findings to the prime minister in the fall.
The group will look at how Japan’s Self-Defense Force could respond to four kinds of crises under current restrictions, and answer these questions:
• Whether Japanese naval vessels are allowed to react when a U.S. warship is attacked.
• Whether Japan should be allowed to intercept ballistic missiles inbound to the United States.
• Whether Japanese forces are allowed to return fire after being attacked during peacekeeping missions in Iraq.
• Whether Japan can provide logistic support and transport of U.S. and other foreign troops.
Yoichiro Sato of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, views this as an attempt by the Abe administration to promote collective defense with the United States without requiring an amendment.
“The government is simultaneously preparing a revised interpretation of the Article 9 in order to make room for security cooperation with the United States and others in limited contexts,” Sato said.
“Prime Minister Abe has appointed scholars and former government officials into a commission to study four hypothetical scenarios of collective defense. While the choice of commissioners suggest that they are likely to support the government proposals, the proposed four scenarios suggest that the scope of collective defense the current government is willing to support is of limited nature — far from making Japan a ‘normal military power.’”
Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of The Okazaki Institute, Tokyo, believes that Group 13’s mission — “study four scenarios to see whether the Self-Defense Forces may exercise the right of collective self-defense under the current Constitution in security-threatening situations” — is actually an attempt to “restructure the legal foundation needed to ensure security.”
Popular attitudes are shifting, influenced by recent North Korean saber-rattling, Chinese military incursions into Japanese airspace and waters, and even U.S. pressure to take on a more potent role in regional security.
“I think that although revision is not yet inevitable, as we can always see some unexpected event or public opposition slowing it down or derailing it, the pressure is building greatly,” said Christopher Hughes, author of the book “Japan’s Re-emergence as a ‘Normal Military Power.”
“In terms of Japan’s own domestic politics,” he said, “the revisionists now in charge of Japan see changing the constitution as inherent to their agenda of throwing off the shackles of the postwar system that had kept Japan down as an international actor, and thereby moving towards making Japan what they see as a ‘normal’ sovereign state capable of defending itself and contributing to international security, really an euphemism for assisting the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
There is also mounting pressure from alliance demands themselves.
“The U.S. has made it clear that missile defense really means Japan to breach its ban on collective self-defense,” Hughes said. “There will be plenty of resistance to this in Japan, but I think that it will be dragged kicking and with some screaming towards removing the ban.”
But others are skeptical. Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, said that real change in Japan’s military will be slow no matter whether the public approves the referendum.
“Even if Japan does succeed in repealing or modifying Article 9 of its constitution, you’re not going to see any immediate changes,” Bitzinger said. “In particular, I don’t see defense spending increasing beyond the unofficial 1-percent-of-GDP rule, and I don’t see Japan acquiring offensive weapons or altering its exclusively defense-oriented posture.”
One drawback for a Japanese move to become a “normal” state, he said, is that the United States would probably want to see Japan become a “normal” ally.
“In other words, it would want Tokyo to explicitly sign on to collective defense,” Bitzinger said. “That, in turn, could make it a lot more difficult for Japan when it comes to demarcating its military responsibilities vis-à-vis China.”
Others say multiple reinterpretations of Article 9 have already left it largely meaningless. Peter Woolley, author of the book “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices,” notes that Japan has created a modern military capable of projecting force anywhere in the world.
Japan Already Makes Presence Felt
“Japan has done remarkably well building up its defense forces, including first-rate naval and air forces, within the theoretical limitations of Article 9,” Woolley said. “As Japan moves troops in and out of Iraq, assists the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Gulf, leans on Malaya and Indonesia to control pirates, and patrols its skies in F-18 fighters, there is very little that is not ‘normal’ about Japan’s power.”
Woolley said that the referendum would little change Japan’s defense posture, no matter how people voted.
“Any significant change in Japan’s defense policies in the next decade will come as a result of external threats, such as turmoil on the Korean peninsula or in the Straits of Taiwan, not as a result of constitutional amendment,” he said.