EDITORIAL: 'Unconstitutional' security legislation must be killed
Upper House deliberations on contentious government-drafted national security legislation are entering the final stage.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was re-elected Sept. 8 as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, intends to seek a vote on the package of bills for passage next week.
But public opinion remains highly critical of the legislation that would drastically change the overseas role of the Self-Defense Forces.
In an Asahi Shimbun poll in late August, 30 percent of the respondents expressed support for the legislation and 51 percent were opposed. Asked whether they thought the legislation needed to be enacted during the current Diet session, only 20 percent of those polled said yes, while 65 percent answered no.
Many experts assert the legislation is unconstitutional. People across Japan have joined demonstrations to protest the bills. It is hard to claim a national consensus has been formed on the need for the legislation.
If the LDP-led ruling coalition rams the bills through the Upper House by using its majority in the chamber, the schism between the people and politics will only deepen.
OPPOSITION ACROSS A BROAD SPECTRUM
We again urge the Abe administration to stop forging ahead with this initiative.
Forcing “unconstitutional” legislation through the Diet is unacceptable. The bills should be quashed, and the government should start from scratch.
Given China’s rise as a major and assertive military power and other factors, the Abe administration argues that it is necessary to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in limited situations because the security environment surrounding the nation has changed. Many Japanese agree with this view.
What is impressive about public opinion with regard to the legislation, on the other hand, is the wide spectrum of arguments against it. Opposition to the legislation has been voiced by people of all ideological stripes, including both those who are for and against constitutional amendments.
Some people have said Japan must not abandon the pacifist credo which it adopted after serious soul-searching about its actions during World War II and has been maintaining throughout the postwar period.
Members of nongovernment organizations have warned that expanding the scope of SDF activities in regions like the Middle East could stir up antagonism against Japan.
There are others who think the Constitution should be amended and criticize the way the government has made it possible for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense simply through a change in the traditional interpretation of the Constitution. This approach, they say, runs against the principle of constitutionalism, which in essence means that the government’s power is defined and limited by the Constitution.
The administration has turned a deaf ear to all these dissenting voices.
When former Supreme Court Chief Justice Shigeru Yamaguchi said that the legislation is unconstitutional, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani downplayed the importance of Yamaguchi’s opinion by stating the remarks were uttered by “one private individual who has retired from office.” Nakatani’s comment symbolized the administration’s complete lack of respect for expert opinion.
LEGAL STABILITY UNDERMINED
The Abe administration contends there is a policy imperative to make it possible for Japan to use the right to collective self-defense. If so, the logical step the administration should follow is to make its case for this policy change to the public and seek support for the necessary amendment to the Constitution.
In fact, for a while Abe called for a revision of Article 96 of the Constitution to lower the bar for constitutional amendments, pledging to “get the Constitution back into the hands of the people.” His true aim in making that move was apparently an amendment to the war-renouncing Article 9.
After his bid to revise Article 96 was criticized as a violation of the principle of constitutionalism, Abe switched to achieving his security policy goal through a change in the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.
The radical reinterpretation of the Constitution was formalized with a Cabinet decision involving only a small number of ministers. The administration is now trying to ram the legislation based on that policy shift through the Diet by taking advantage of the overwhelming parliamentary majority commanded by the ruling alliance for an effective amendment to the Constitution.
The administration has omitted the process of building consensus among the public and made do with an agreement reached within the government and the ruling camp without participation by the public.
Now, the Constitution is being taken away from the hands of the people.
As a result, legal stability is being undermined in more ways than one.
No matter what answers the government gives to related questions at the Diet, many Japanese cannot help but suspect that the government could change its position in the future. That’s why people are finding it hard not to be concerned that conscription may someday be adopted, no matter how strongly Abe rules out the possibility.
After the package of security bills is passed into law, there will likely be a wave of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the legislation.
It is also possible that the government’s interpretation of the Constitution may be altered again after a regime change.
The Abe administration is poised to push the legislation through the Diet without even clarifying the vague concept of “the crisis of the nation’s survival,” which it says would justify Japan engaging in collective self-defense.
The lack of an effective system to prevent arbitrary enforcement of the law inevitably gives the government even greater discretion in making security policy decisions.
The SDF must not be deployed to dangerous overseas operations under such unstable circumstances.
IMPORTANCE OF ARTICLE 9
Another thing the security legislation is threatening to undermine is the importance of Article 9.
The Abe administration appears to be trying to expand the scope of the tasks and areas for the SDF's overseas operations, enhance the SDF’s cooperation with the forces of the United States and other countries and thereby enhance deterrence against China. It also seems to regard Article 9 as an impediment to Japan’s national security and want to reduce its implications for security policy so that Japan can play a greater military role in the international community.
If the “proactive pacifism” the administration has been advocating means pushing the nation in this direction, it marks a radical departure from the postwar pacifism that has enabled Japan to maintain a distance from direct involvement in overseas conflicts, even if the two may look similar.
Let us think afresh about the meaning of Article 9, which states the Japanese people “forever renounce war.”
It has helped Japan to maintain a distance from U.S. military actions, which on occasion are staged for a wrong war. It has also helped Japan to build relationships based on mutual trust with its neighbors, including China and South Korea, and avoid the folly of participating in a futile arms race. Japan, as a pacifist nation underpinned by Article 9, can play a useful role as mediator in the Middle East.
Article 9 has played no small part in Japan’s pacifist diplomacy in the postwar period, although it has also created challenges under the harsh reality facing the world.
To be sure, a certain degree of deterrence provided by the U.S. forces and the SDF is necessary for Japan’s security. It is vital to make efforts to bolster the reliability of deterrence.
That, however, doesn’t mean that enacting the “unconstitutional” security legislation in such a rash manner is the only way to accomplish that.
As for expanding Japan’s international contributions, widening the scope of overseas SDF deployments is not the only option.
There are a plethora of international challenges Japan should tackle, such as aid to refugees, efforts to deal with infectious diseases and mediation to solve conflicts. There must be ways for Japan to expand and upgrade its diplomatic activities by combining efforts to tackle these challenges in line with its commitment to Article 9.
Using the power of numbers to turn the colorful landscape of Japanese people’s views and opinions into a monochrome picture would stifle people’s efforts to envision the future of the nation.