The former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is remembered for being one of the youngest prime ministers of Japanese history (indeed, during his first term, in the years 2006-2007, he was only 52 years old) and for holding this role for four terms, the last one ending in August 2020 with the resignation of Abe himself due to health problems.
During his glorious political career he was the leading figure of the Nippon Kaigi: founded in 1997, it is one of the most accredited Japanese political organisations, extensively recognised as right- wing and nationalist. Among the most important issues proposed by the Nippon Kaigi there is the constitutional revision, especially of Article 9, known by many as the “pacifist article”.
The origin of today’s Japanese constitution
American atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki of August 1945 marked de facto the end of the armed conflict between the United States and Japan and the end of the Second World War. The defeat of the Japanese empire, the most innovative country concerning military techniques and strategies in the Asian context, created an empty space in the Asian political leadership of that time. The climate of uncertainty caused by the end of the Second World War cleared the way for the American political influence. During the American occupation of Japanese territories, the Constitution of 1947 entered into force at the suggestion of the American government; officially it was launched with the aim of democratising and modernising Japan, unofficially with the aim of politically and militarily weaken one of the biggest global actors of the period.
The important points of the new Constitution were: the downsizing of the emperor’s figure set forth by article 1, that relegated him to a traditional role exclusively representative of the unity of the State, legitimised by the power of the people and no more by a divine right; pacifism, the respect of human rights and finally equality between citizens.
The Japanese Constitution of 1947 is still in force and it is therefore considered to be the longest-running in the world by law scholars, since it has been the same for more than sixty years.
The pacifist article and its controversies
Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution recites as follows: “(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised.” (art. 9, Japanese Constitution, 1947)
This article represents an unique case within the global constitutional law since through it Japan not only renounces to war as a mean of resolution for international controversies (but a similar caption is even present in article 11 of the Italian Constitution), but also renounces to the possession of armed forces. The second part of the article in question seems de facto to be contradicting the general principles of the international law, which confer to any sovereign State the right to self-defence. Actually, the Japanese territory is not entirely lacking from military bases or from armed forces. In 1952 the “Treaty of Mutual Security” between the United States and Japan, which grants American people to keep their military bases in Japanese territory, was stipulated with the right to spring into action to defend Japan from external attacks; furthermore, in 1954 the Japanese parliament approved the law on Self-defence Forces, equipping the country with an army for all intents and purposes.
Both the “Treaty of Mutual Security” and Self-defence Forces have been defined as unconstitutional more than once and the Supreme Court has been called to express its opinion on their compliance to article 9. In the case of the “Treaty of Mutual Security”, its legitimacy has been established through a literal interpretation of the “pacifist” article according to which the prohibition of possessing armed forces is limited to Japan and not to foreign powers in Japanese land. Regarding Self-defence Forces, the opinions on their unconstitutionality are extremely cautious and very ambiguous.
Japanese public opinion
As in the case of the Abe government, the revision of the constitution, a symbol of the defeat suffered during the Second World War, is one of the main topics proposed also by previous governments. Nevertheless, the process of amendment of the Japanese constitution is extremely complicated since it needs a really wide consensus, both parliamentary and of the people. Moreover, the opinion of the Japanese population concerning article 9 is not at all homogeneous. A part of it recognises the importance of having their own armed forces, released from the American support, so that to re-earn an important place in the Asian sphere, being equal to the other close nations as China and North Corea; on the other hand, the other part of the population sees article 9 as a safeguard from war atrocity and not as a limitation, considering of more importante other topics on which a political campaign should rely, such as education and social welfare.
Translated by Lucica Oana Maris