The slugfest over Article 9 of Japan's constitution


The long political boxing match surrounding the allegedly pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese constitution has been going on for many rounds, but it seems like the boxer in the right corner is slowly gaining the upper hand.

Until recently, both sides of the argument have mostly exchanged relatively harmless jabs. Sure, many of the jabs — especially those coming from the right-wing side of the debate — were buildups for a possible knockout punch, but this punch never came. The typical right-wing jab came as a suggestion to add to or change the wording of Article 9, usually under the aegis of a major political party (the Liberal-Democratic Party or the Democratic Party).

These suggestions, or drafts for new versions of the article (sometimes including other constitutional revisions) — which enjoyed extensive media coverage and were published in the most prominent Japanese newspapers — were focused mainly on making sure that the new version of the article would clarify that the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) is, and was, a legitimate and vital organization. In some cases these drafts suggested that the new version of the article would further strengthen the JSDF, such as in making it a more active player in the international arena. However, all of these initiatives never managed to result in a knockout punch — an actual constitutional amendment.

It further seems like the left-wing side of the debate has mostly been employing defensive tactics. For every call for revision, the leftists countered with demands to protect the "pacifist" spirit of the constitution by leaving the article as is. The leftists did, however, initiate more active moves from time to time, such as the establishment of different groups and organizations (like the "Article 9 association") for the purpose of "preserving" or "protecting" the constitution and Article 9. None of these jabs, however, ever landed hard enough to allow a knockout.

The most recent round in this fight was a bit more exciting and meaningful than usual. Both boxers dropped their usual techniques of endless jabs and blocks, and tried to land a hook for a change. The hook from the boxer in the right corner hit hard in July 2014 when the Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a reinterpretation of Article 9, which allows Japan to exercise the right of "collective self-defense," meaning that Japan would be allowed to engage in military action if one of its allies were under attack. How was this hook different from the regular jab? Well, first of all, it was a roundabout move. Abe did not suggest changing the article's text itself (which is the typical rightist's jab) but rather changing its "official interpretation." Unlike a constitutional change — which requires a two-thirds majority from both the lower and upper houses, as well as a public referendum — the "reinterpretation" of the article only required cabinet approval and could bypass the Diet as well as the general public. Secondly, this hook landed hard on the left boxer’s cheek and actually did some damage. It wasn’t a knockout punch, but it is getting closer. The boxer in the left corner tried to counter this move, as usual, with objections and protests, calling it an illegitimate foul, but has thus far been unsuccessful.

The left-corner boxer was also more active this round, and tried to land a hook of his own. This move started when Naomi Takasu sent a 24,000-signature petition to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2013, asking to nominate Article 9 for the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee replied that only people or organizations could be nominated, and the petition was changed accordingly to nominate those "Japanese people who conserve Article 9" gaining around 80,000 signatures by June 2014. At some point, even the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, predicted that (the "Japanese people who conserve") Article 9 might actually win the prize. Article 9 did not eventually receive the prize, however, and the potentially potent hook barely grazed the right-corner boxer’s ear.

As things stand, it seems that the right-corner boxer is on top of the game, especially after the LDP's victory in the recent Lower House election. But, there is another option for the leftist boxer: the risky uppercut to the jaw. This move has knockout potential if — and this if is critical — it is delivered correctly and at the right time. On the other hand, this highly aggressive move requires the left-corner boxer to lower his guard, making him wide open to similar attacks.

What does this option entail, then? Well, it is like fighting fire with fire (or, as the Japanese call it, "controlling poison with poison").

The routine we all got used to seeing is a jab from the right corner in the form of a suggestion to change the text of Article 9, and a block from the left corner in the form of calls to "protect" the text of the article. This new move, on the other hand, requires the left to do exactly what they were fighting against all these years: suggest a revision to Article 9. This revised version would plainly declare that the JSDF’s existence is illegal (inter alia by removing the notorious "to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph" part), and that any military pact whatsoever, with any country or military force whatsoever (including the financial support of such bodies) is totally forbidden.

On the theoretical level, this move would make sense, especially for those on the left which style themselves pacifists. The current version of Article 9 was created by non-pacifists (Americans and Japanese) and was actually never regarded as a "pacifist" article by its creators (they actually publicly announced on more than one occasion that Article 9 allows Japan to maintain an army, defend itself, and even assist its allies militarily if necessary). In addition, both the Japanese government and the Japanese Supreme Court have adopted a rightist interpretation of the article's text since its creation and deemed the JSDF constitutional.

The large majority of the Japanese public has also supported the existence of the JSDF for most of this time too. So, if the leftists truly believe in pacifist ideals, such as the unconstitutionality of the JSDF or the illegality of any military alliance with the U.S. (or with any other country, for that matter), why not act to change the battered and watered-down Article 9 — which was never actually interpreted by the relevant authorities as pacifist — to mean exactly what they say it means?

On the practical level, however, this might prove to be a self-knockout, since many recent polls have shown that the majority of the Japanese public supports the existence of the JSDF, and would probably resist this "leftist constitutional change." Barring divine intervention, the idea of this revision getting two thirds in the Japanese diet seems fanciful at best. To make matters worse, this suggestion would not only be easily blocked by the right-corner boxer, but could actually pave the way for a rightist constitutional change — the ultimate knockout punch.

Either way, the left-corner boxer’s endurance seems to be running low after so many years of repetitive blocks and few successful blows. The fight is not over by any means, but only time will tell for whom the bell tolls.

© Japan Today

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If the author thought that using the metaphor of boxing made this very important issue easier to understand or more interesting, he failed miserably - I find the article almost unreadable.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Regardless of the long time Article Nine managed to survive, it will probably won't survive much longer in its current form, and as the author suggested it seems that its new form will be much closer to the right.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Well Abe-san's on a roll,,, guess he'll get this too by providing "benefits" to the right players.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It seems that the revision bill of article 9 would be passed by 2/3rd of lawmakers, but more than the half of all Japanese people would oppose it eventually as Japanese still remember the terrible tragedies of those stupid wars, so no change of article 9.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Somehow imagining Abe and co. doing something as manly as boxing requires such a huge suspension of disbelief that the analogy falls flat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@boweevil: Somehow imagining Abe and co. doing something as manly as boxing requires such a huge suspension of disbelief that the analogy falls flat.

(In Vader's voice: ) I find your lack of imagination disturbing. Shirtless Putin is riding bears for crying out loud!

Other world leaders should follow this example.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

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