Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The End of Kamikaze Pacifism? Terror and Japan's Peace Constitution

Although I knew December 7, 2001 marked its 60 th anniversary, I never imagined that the phrase ``Pearl Harbor '' would be heard so often this year. Its repetition began in a prosaic way, with the release of the Disney movie ``Pearl Harbor'' last June. After September 11 th , however, many Americans spoke of the terrorist assaults as ``the first attack against the US since Pearl Harbor.'' One person even told me that, because of those attacks, Japan had received a golden opportunity to clear its name of the stigma of Pearl Harbor. The way to achieve this, it seems, was for Japan to provide military support to the US.

Critics of Japan's defense posture over the years have sometimes been unforgiving. The Economist, indeed, once derided the Japanese as ``kamikaze pacifists.'' The reality is that defense debates within Japan are invariably traumatic, based on sharp memories of the war and the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, despite this, Japan responded to the terrorist acts of September by passing a new law that allows the country to support American forces in the war against terrorists. The Anti-Terrorism Special Law, passed by Japan's Diet in October, enabled Japan to send its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) overseas to support - through supply, transportation, repair, maintenance, medical services and so on - American forces.

Even though the SDF still cannot participate in combat, the Anti-Terrorism law is the first that allows Japan to dispatch armed forces to join in military operations outside Japanese territory and territorial waters while the shooting war is on. That Japan acted with alacrity after September 11 th reflects the trauma experienced during the Gulf War a decade ago. Although Japan paid much of the costs of that war by raising domestic taxes, its supportive actions went largely unnoticed. Indeed, the word ``Japan'' was nowhere to be seen in the advertisements Kuwait's government published after the war to thank the thirty nations of the international coalition that fought to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

These debates are also traumatic for an institutional reason. Japan's so-called ``Peace Constitution,'' including Article 9 which prohibits the country from possessing ``war potential,'' was created after WWII under strong American pressure, and in atmosphere of deep self-reflection toward the Pacific War. Some of the concepts the Constitution contained were so alien to Japanese tradition that new ideograms had to be created to express them. The Cold War, however, soon made Article 9 seem excessively idealistic, at least to some. Ever since, Japan has witnessed a severe confrontation between Constitutional revisionists and those who want to protect the Peace Constitution as it was written.

In reality, Japan has been realistic in interpreting the Constitution according to events. Over the years it did not revise the Constitution in a formal way but, instead, expanded its meaning by re-interpreting critical clauses. Such an informal revision allowed Japan to first create the SDF as well as to support the presence of American forces in Japan. Still, for most of the postwar era, we understood that Japan could not send the SDF abroad even to support allies. This was why Japan did not send the SDF to the Gulf.

Previous to September 11 th , Japan undertook a big step toward dispatching military forces beyond its territory when it concluded an agreement with the US in 1997 - the ``Guideline for Defense Cooperation'' - that restricted operations to the ``area surrounding Japan.'' The new Anti-Terrorism Law virtually eliminated this restriction, making it possible for Japan to send its troops anywhere in the world at any time.

To revise or not to revise the constitution, especially Article 9, remains a divisive political issues here, for pressures for change come not only from within by conservative politicians, but from without. The so-called Armitage Report of 2000, produced by a committee headed by the now Deputy US Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, stirred up a hornet's nest when it said that ``Japan's prohibition against collective defense is a constraint on alliance cooperation'' and that ``lifting this prohibition would allow for closer and more efficient security cooperation.''

Here was a de facto request from America that Japan broaden its military cooperation. Because Mr. Armitage and many other American members of the joint committee became high officials in the Bush administration, Japan's politicians regarded a response to this report as vital. Arguments within the Japanese government concerning collective defense received greater focus.

But establishing a practical meaning for ``collective defense'' remained difficult. Japan's new Anti-Terrorist law was one effort to impose clarity on the idea of ``collective defense.'' Prime Minister Koizumi testified in the Diet that the Constitution contained obscure and unclear terms and that Japan must interpret them with common sense. In the end, however, Mr. Koizumi avoided any formal commitment to act in ``collective defense'' or to revise the Constitution.

Although both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Diet created special committees to investigate Constitutional revision - especially Article 9 - change remains hard, for several reasons. First, a majority of Japanese do not want to change Article 9, as opinion polls consistently show. Article 9 remains a cherished symbol of Japan's peaceful posture, and a barrier against possible re-militarization. Japan was able to pass the new Anti-Terrorist law without revising the Constitution, but the limits of expansive Constitutional interpretation may one day be reached.

The reaction of other Asian countries, especially China and South Korea, also creates limits on Constitutional revision. When Prime Minister Koizumi explained Japan's new Anti-Terrorist law in China and Korea in October, leaders in both countries offered sharp cautions, with Korea's President Kim Dae Jung telling Prime Minister Koizumi that, ``I hope the SDF behaves within the limits of the Peace Constitution.''

Whether or not Japan maintains Article 9 as it is, the Japanese public must begin to argue seriously and thoroughly about the country's proper future defense policy. Formulating a basic law governing national security, a law that would define the role and limit the actions of the SDF, is a mechanism we should seriously consider.

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