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November 21, 2005

Day Dawning for New Constitution

Masahiko ISHIZUKA (Councilor of the Foreign Press Center/Japan)

Adoption of new basic law will signify the end of the postwar era for Japan

Two documents of extreme importance for the future of Japan were released in late October. One was the Liberal Democratic Party's draft of a revised Constitution and the other was an interim report on the "Japan-U.S. Alliance: Transformation and Realignment for the Future."

The timing of their release was perhaps just coincidental, but Japan's ever deepening involvement in the U.S. military strategy and setup as detailed in the report on the bilateral alliance is apparently one of the crucial factors behind the move for a new constitution to replace the "peace constitution" that has been in place since the end of World War II.

The LDP and other proponents of a new Constitution have always made it an important point that the incumbent Constitution was imposed by the U.S. Occupation forces shortly after the war ended, when Japan was in a state of impotence. If it was a "made in America" basic law, ironically it was Washington's postwar policy, particularly in the context of the Cold War, that drove Japan to virtually abrogate the Constitution and build a world-class military capability.

It is not just these forces that favor a new Constitution, however. Many opinion polls show that most Japanese support the idea largely on the grounds that the realities in terms of defense and international affairs are far out of line with those prevailing at the time the current Constitution was written.

Conservatives and hardline nationalists were unhappy about the Constitution from the start, although they refrained from saying so openly. It was as early as 1955, eight years after the Constitution came into effect on May 3, 1947, that a group of politicians formed the "legislators' alliance for an independent constitution." It later became part of the LDP's official platform.

Their obsession on this matter is manifest from the foreword of a new Constitution drafted by the LDP that starts with: "We Japanese as a sovereign people enact a new Constitution on the basis of our own will and determination." This implies the notion that the present Constitution was not written according to "our own will and determination."

Solid foundation

It is also a widely held view that the Constitution has provided a solid legal foundation for the country for 60 years, which saw Japan rise to become the world's second-largest economy while maintaining a foreign policy that abides by the peace principle embodied in Article 9.

The problem is that the way Japanese have lived so far is no longer justified in a world greatly changed from the one in the immediate postwar period. The central point here concerns Japan's buildup of military capability and its deployment outside the country, albeit on two peaceful missions, both of which have been carried out with a patchwork of legal shortcuts pushed to the furthest possible extent.

What is needed now is to be honest about the situation and liberate the country from what looks like undue constraints imposed by the language of the Constitution. The LDP's draft says that Japan has self-defense forces to secure the peace, independence and security of the nation and people. In another section, it says the self-defense forces can engage in internationally coordinated activities that are carried out to ensure the peace and security of the world community.

These phrases contrast sharply with the famous Article 9, which states that land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential will never be maintained because "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation." Despite that, the Self-Defense Forces have been created and maintained on the interpretation that the Constitution does not deny the right of self-defense. The draft Constitution not only recognizes the existence of the SDF, but also gives them the more straightforward name of "army."

Concern has been voiced that once the constitutional constraint is dropped, Japan may choose again to become a military power, but the pacifism embodied in the Constitution should not necessarily be equated with the negation of the nationalist spirit, which many Japanese argue has been suppressed in the postwar period. The inclination to have a Constitution "of our own" translates into a desire to be reborn in this sense.

However, as long as the LDP's draft is concerned, there are not many radical departures from the present Constitution, except on Article 9. There are issues with the LDP draft, and for that matter the current Constitution as well: one important missing idea concerns what defines a member of the Japanese nation, which in turn relates to the question of what makes up Japan as a nation. The unstated assumption here is that Japan does not need those kinds of artificial definitions, because Japan is not an artificially made nation. The Japanese are just born that way, with the Emperor as the symbolic head of state. This is a given fact about which there is no need to be explicit.

The question is whether Japan can continue that way in the globalizing world in the 21st century. The values and concepts needed in nation-building should also be clearly stated in the new Constitution.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, a longtime proponent of a new Constitution who has published his own version, said it could take 10 years for the nation to get a new Constitution, allowing for the time needed for deeper debate and procedural clearances, including a national referendum. When that point is reached at last, the postwar era will have ended for Japan.

(Originally appeared in the November 14, 2005 issue of The Nikkei Weekly, reproduced here with permission.)

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