The relative success of the populist right-wing Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai or JIP), which increased its vote in recent elections to emerge as the third largest party, has paved the way for the country to revise its 75-year-old peace constitution.
This constitution, which was drafted in 1946 by the US occupation forces under General Douglas MacArthur, prevents the country from officially maintaining armed forces. The main clause of the constitution is Article 9. It deprives Japan of the right to have an army, navy or air force. It also makes Japan’s use of belligerence to resolve international disputes illegal.
Nevertheless, Tokyo has rapidly increased its militarization in recent decades, driven by hardline factions of the dominant ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In fact, Japan is now the ninth largest military spender in the world. The next logical step, then, would seem to be a constitutional amendment. Something that is likely to be implemented now, the recent election results have empowered the opposition JIP, which supports such a move.
So how did this change happen, and does it mean that Japan’s pacifism is dead? The simple answer to the latter is “no”. The Constitution of Japan was drafted and imposed by American authorities after the war as a means of preventing Japan from becoming a military threat again. But its pacifist emphasis was adopted by successive generations of Japanese citizens who were keen to rebuild their country’s image and rebuild its identity.
Japanese schooling still places great emphasis on the virtues and virtues of peace. Japan boasts some of the most active and longstanding pacifist NGOs and societies in the world. And more than half of its population not only opposes the war, but is in favor of maintaining Article 9. These aspects of Japanese civil society are closely linked to Japan’s position as the sole victim of nuclear war. As such, they work to reestablish Japan as a victim of the horrors of war, rather than as a ruthless wartime aggressor.
However, in the political arena, the last four decades have witnessed a sea change. Especially after the Japanese economic bubble burst in 1991, Japan faced a national identity crisis. As unemployment rose and living standards fell, nationalist politicians looked for an external target from which to redirect public discontent. As a result, the government’s anti-military approach to foreign policy, which had proved so successful during the boom years of the 1960s–1980s, was questioned.
Conservative political actors began to target Japan’s pacifism as a source of weakness. This was facilitated by North Korea and rising China, both of which were recalculated as serious risks to Japan’s security. The narrative was led by two of Japan’s most successful prime ministers, Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe. The two came to power due to a flamboyant foreign policy stance, including a proposed amendment to the Constitution of Japan.
The result has been a significant shift to the right in Japan’s major political parties, where promoting pacifism is no longer politically viable. The culmination of these winds of change is evident from the latest election results, which saw Fumio Kishida, who took control of the LDP in a leadership election just before the October general election, assumed the office of prime minister, retaining power for the party. Laid it. Even if with a small majority.
Kishida is considered to be more generous and less fresh-faced than long-serving Abe or his loyal short-lived successor Yoshihide Suga. But with the increased number of seats to the JIP, the newly elected prime minister is likely to be affected by the increasing pace of legislative changes. The combined forces of the LDP, the JIP and – albeit reticently – the junior coalition partner, Komito, now favored constitutional amendment in a position to implement the legal reforms he needed.
This has serious implications. Domestically, it reflects the rise and dominance of revisionist conservatism, and the destruction of more progressive, liberal opposition forces. Internationally, this would sound alarm bells across the Asia-Pacific. Any indication that Japan may revise its constitution is likely to result in angry reactions from Japan’s former colonies and victims of militaristic warfare.
This threatens to worsen relations with Japan’s two biggest trading partners in China and South Korea, as well as damage its regional image as a trusted leader of a peaceful economic and investment regime. It could further isolate Tokyo in the midst of an already tense security environment. Japan’s relations with both Koreas remain tense. And a closer alignment with its only coalition ally, the United States, perpetuates tensions with the more powerful China. This also includes the issue of Taiwan. Meanwhile, Japan, China and Taiwan all lay claim to the disputed summit islands, which are called Senkaku, Diaoyu and Diaoyutai, respectively.
The recent reinterpretation of Article 9 already allows Japan to conduct various forms of collective defense with allies in exceptional circumstances. Tokyo also regularly sends Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) overseas. In this regard, with American support and a flexible interpretation of “self-defense”, there is little practical need to formally modify a constitution that has served Japan so well during peacetime.