Japan Must Not Pass up This Last Opportunity for Constitutional Change

Seiji Fuji

Constitutional reform proposals are not limited to the Commissions on the Constitution

 The October issue of Gekkan WiLL magazine ran an article entitled, “The Time is Ripe for Constitutional Reform” in the “National Diet Dispatch from One-eyed Dragon Masamune” column by Member of the House of Councillors Masamune Wada. It read:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a talk on August 12 in Yamaguchi Prefecture where he stated, “We should speed up our consensus-building so the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) can submit a constitutional reform proposal at the next Diet session.” We have reached the stage of starting full-fledged discussions about constitutional change in the Diet.
Before its convention at the end of March this year, the LDP decided on a rough outline for four amendments based on discussions in the party’s Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters. These are clearly stipulating the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), states of emergency, abolishing House of Councillors joint electoral districts, and enhancing education. Clarifying the JSDF is of the highest priority while Japan’s neighbors pose threats.
Japan is facing the risk of foreign attack because the constitution includes no clear statements about self-defense methods. Only three other countries are in this situation: the Cook Islands, Niue, and Monaco. Japan is the only nation of a large size and population that doesn’t specify self-defense means in its constitution.
To aggressive countries, Japan probably poses the easiest target. Japan likely cannot wage a counterattack against missile launches, and even if it did, it would have to be extremely limited due to the constraints of the constitution.
Costa Rica and Panama, which are frequently held up as examples of nations with no armed forces, clearly state in their constitutions how to respond in the event of an emergency. The Constitution of Costa Rica says that military forces may be organized for national defense, while the Constitution of Panama reads, “All Panamanians are required to take arms to defend the national independence and the territorial integrity of the State.” The Constitution of Japan lacks an obvious statement of this type, which puts our territory and people in danger.
However, it is a fact that the LDP’s internal discussions on constitutional reform have not reached the stage of proposal submission to the National Diet. In July, out of the desire to encourage more vigorous discussions in the Diet’s Commissions on the Constitution, I started a study group on the process from amendment proposal submission to the national referendum. This is because I thought Diet discussions are being stymied by the misunderstanding that a constitutional reform proposal (in other words, the amendment draft) can only be submitted in the Commission on the Constitution.
Actually, in addition to this method, the Diet Act says a draft may be submitted with the support of 100 or more House of Representatives members or 50 or more House of Councillors members.
I suspect some Diet members are unaware of this. The opposition parties may think constitutional reform proposals cannot be submitted if the Commission on the Constitution is cancelled or if the discussions do not lead to agreement. But in actuality, proposals can be submitted and official deliberations can be started in the Diet as long as a sufficient number of Diet members join together.
A country’s most important task is protecting its citizens; the past and neighbors are secondary considerations

 Wada touches on nations with no armed forces, many of which are tiny nations with small territories and populations. The Japanese Wikipedia’s list of countries without armed forces names three reasons for not having armies: diplomatic or military reasons, to prevent coup d’états or civil war, and militaries that were forcibly dismantled via intervention by neighboring countries or occupation by a foreign military. In general, these tiny countries lack armed forces due to the first reason: diplomatic or military reasons.
 I visited Costa Rica and Panama in October 2010, where I met with Dr. René Castro Salazar, then minister of foreign affairs of Costa Rica, and Gina Guillen-Grillo, who was a senior advisor on the Costa Rican Tourism Board. I described my visit in a special interview and essay printed in the December 2010 issue of Apple Town. My essay was titled, “Visiting Costa Rica and Viewing the Panama Canal after the Withdrawal of the U.S. Armed Forces.” Under the subtitle “If you want peace, prepare for war,” I wrote:

I’ve interviewed and shared views with many ambassadors for the Big Talk article in the past. In the September issue of Apple Town I spoke with Mario Fernandez Silva, ambassador to Japan from the Republic of Costa Rica in Central America, which impressed me greatly. Democracy has been established in Costa Rica and it enjoys favorable economic development even compared to the other Central American countries. Costa Rica is also well known for having abolished its army in 1948. Many Japanese people seem to think this means Costa Rica has entirely negated the idea of military strength, but that simply isn’t true. The most memorable part of my talk with Fernandez was his statement “if you want peace, prepare for war,” which was inspired by an Ancient Roman saying.
Fernandez, who has taught at a university and possesses a wealth of historical knowledge, also said as follows: “I really like photography, so I often read photography magazines. I was impressed by a photograph of General Kazushige Ugaki. He served as minister for foreign affairs under the Konoe Cabinet, before which he was the governor-general of Korea. Ugaki was on the front lines against China, and insisted that China posed a greater danger than the United States. Reading Toshio Tamogami’s essay made me recall Ugaki.”
I asked him if it was possible for Japan to continue without having an army, considering that Japan is faced with North Korea, who carries out reckless actions such as sinking a South Korean patrol boat, and China, whose policy is one of expansion. His answer was as follows:

North Korea is a dangerous country, not only for Japan but for the entire world. To maintain his power, Kim Jong Il sacrifices his own citizens and spends money on weapons. China used to control North Korea, but now they can’t do anything.
Allow me to respond to your previous question of whether Japan needs an army or not. If Japan can manage without an army, I think that’s a good thing. But in Japan’s current situation, perhaps you need an army to protect your citizens. The most important thing now is to protect your citizens, and you must not pay too much attention to the past and to your neighboring countries. China also speaks of peace while expanding its military preparations. Japan must consider how to protect its country by itself.
Fernandez also said, “Last week, I attended the same luncheon as the Dalai Lama. In Tibet, over one million people have died in the conflict with China. The Dalai Lama is always asking for peace, but China doesn’t have ears to listen.”
Afterwards, I asked the ambassador why he made such brave statements on extremely delicate issues. His answer was, “I taught human rights and other subjects at the University of Costa Rica, so I suppose I speak more as a researcher than a diplomat. Because of this, I’m not afraid to share what I think is right.”
I became very interested in Fernandez’s country of Costa Rica and began making plans to visit. The Republic of Panama is also located next to Costa Rica. In the past I visited Egypt with three members of my family during a very dangerous time when Islam extremist guerillas attacked tourists and tourist buses were accompanied by security escort vehicles. Thinking that it would be safe to rent a car and blend in with the local cars, we drove a shabby rental car from Cairo to visit the Suez Canal, a round trip of 400 kilometers. That’s when I decided that I wanted to visit the Panama Canal.
My schedule in Costa Rica was quite full, but when I arrived there I made plans to visit the Panama Canal and had arrangements for airplane tickets to Panama and one night in a hotel made for me by a local travel agency.
During our tight schedule afterwards, we went from Costa Rica to Panama for two days and one night. I had figured that Panama would have an atmosphere similar to Costa Rica’s because the two countries are next to each other, but things were different from the moment we arrived at the airport. Costa Rica gained independence from Spain in 1821 and has a long history. In contrast, Panama has been controlled by a number of different forces and only became a fully sovereign nation fairly recently in 1999.
While Costa Rica’s ethnic makeup contains many people of Spanish origin, Panama is a melting pot of many races including people of mixed race and African heritage. And while procedures at the airport went very smoothly in Costa Rica, the immigration officials at the airport in Panama were very inefficient.

We took a chartered taxi from the airport and arrived at the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks after approximately 50 minutes. I was under the impression that the Panama Canal used water gates to deal with the difference in elevation between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and thought that using the difference in elevation for hydroelectric power generation would create an inexhaustible supply of energy. However, actually visiting the Panama Canal made me realize that my previous image was totally wrong. Including the Miraflores Locks that I visited, the Panama Canal has three water elevators called “locks” that raise boats in three stages to the water level of Gatun Lake (26 meters). On the other side they are lowered in three stages. I also thought that the Panama Canal was filled with sea water, but the only water used in the locks is lake water from Gatun Lake. Expansion work was begun in 2007 with the goal of completing it by 2014, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. The new locks will be installed with water tanks to reuse up to 60% of irrigation water. Even though the boats only have to be raised a distance of 26 meters, when looking at the locks the boats appear to be climbing a mountain.

Even countries without armed forces are strongly committed to self-defense

 In my special interview that included Costa Rica’s minister of foreign affairs, I brought up the topic of armed forces and said, “Although Costa Rica has no army, you have a police force with 8,000 personnel. Compared to the size of the population, that’s the same ratio as the JSDF.” No one negated my statement. The Wikipedia page I mentioned above analyzes Costa Rica as follows:

The constitution says, “The Army as a permanent institution is proscribed.” However, military forces can be organized through conscription in the event of an emergency. Among the law enforcement agencies, the constitution also grants the Public Forces (which patrol and ensure security) the role of safeguarding the country’s independence. It is regarded as a “paramilitary” by the British International Institute for Strategic Studies and others. The budget for this paramilitary organization is three times that of the national forces of Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s neighbor, and it is seen as an army by the Nicaraguan side.
 The analysis of Panama reads:
The army was abolished with the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1990. The constitution was revised in 1994 to declare that Panama has no armed forces. The number of personnel including the police and coast guard is limited to 11,800 or fewer persons. However, the police forces can be temporarily enhanced in the event of an emergency.

 Both of these countries lack armed forces, but they still have measures in place for self-defense.

The American midterms offer the perfect timing for a constitutional amendment proposal

 All of Japan’s neighbors are nuclear powers, including China, Russia, North Korea, and the U.S. Moreover, South Korea is clearly hostile to Japan. The trade war between China and the U.S. is intensifying as they struggle over North Korea. North Korean nuclear weapons do not cause much fear in the U.S., but it is anxious about intercontinental ballistic missiles. In contrast, North Korea’s nuclear weapons (including its already completed Rodong missiles) are intermediate-range missiles that pose a threat to China, South Korea, and Japan in East Asia. This is a vastly different awareness. It would be a nightmare for Japan if South Korea was integrated into North Korea, forming a nuclear “Korean Federation.” However, I think the South Korean Moon Jae-in administration might actually be hoping for this. A Korean Federation with nuclear weapons would be like a dagger menacing Japan from the side. And if this federation became a Chinese underling, Japan would likely end up as a Chinese autonomous region in the not-too-distant future.
 Considering these circumstances, let us take another look at the reasons for not having armed forces. Of course, Japan hasn’t had an army for 73 years because of reason number three: militaries that were forcibly dismantled via intervention by neighboring countries or occupation by a foreign military. However, today Japan is a major economic power and a G7 country. There are no diplomatic or economic reasons for us not to have an army, and no need to worry about coups or civil wars. As Wada points out, there is no basis for Japan’s lack of armed forces, and Japan’s national security is threatened because the constitution does not recognize the JSDF as an army. To protect Japan’s territory and people, I believe we should first amend the constitution – which was written during the American occupation – to clearly state that the JSDF is a military force.
 Diet members in favor of constitutional reform currently occupy two thirds of the seats in both houses, but this will only last until the House of Councillors election next July. The American midterms will take place this November, and Trump has started the trade war with China to gain a Republican victory. The U.S. has placed additional tariffs of 25% on 50 billion dollars of goods imported from China to limit intellectual property rights violations. This is a struggle over hegemony in the high-tech field. The Trump administration sees China, which is trying to gain control in this realm as a major manufacturing power, as a nuisance. The Republican Party is likely also trying to boost its popularity by instigating the North Korea crisis and bringing North Korea under American control. Japan should also leverage the North Korea crisis to submit a constitutional amendment proposal and hold a national referendum in the next six months. To win over the majority of the people, the power of all Diet members in favor of constitutional change will be needed, as well as prefectural assembly members. If it still looks like the national referendum will fail, the House of Representatives could be dissolved and a double election held. I think the most realistic option is a two-stage approach First, a proposal should be made on adding a clause clearly specifying the JSDF, which will easily gain the support of many citizens. In the second round, we should work to create a truly independent constitution. The second clause of Article 9 should be removed and the JSDF made into a genuine military at the timing when Trump is making his final push to winning the election by coming to an agreement on ending the Korean War, which will likely happen right before the presidential election in November 2020. Abe is ambitious about submitting a proposal at the extraordinary Diet session this autumn, and the time is definitely ripe for constitutional change as Wada asserts.

September 13 (Thursday), 18:00