Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated Tuesday that he disagrees with some calls from members of his Liberal Democratic Party to seek a more drastic change to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution than his proposal first made last May.
Abe has proposed adding to the existing paragraphs of Article 9 an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces. He argues that the change is intended to leave no room for arguments that an armed organization even for self-defense violates the pacifist charter.
But some LDP members have called for removing the key second paragraph of Article 9, seeing it as having long complicated the SDF's status. The paragraph says Japan shall not maintain "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential."
"I'm aware that there are still arguments inside the LDP that the second paragraph should be removed," Abe, the LDP president, said at a parliamentary committee Tuesday.
But he warned that deleting the second paragraph could open up the possibility of further expanding the activities of the SDF, which has faced various restrictions on the grounds that it should not constitute "war potential."
"A change in the second paragraph, depending on the wording, may make it possible to fully exercise the right to collective self-defense," Abe said, referring to the idea of defending the United States and other allies even if Japan itself is not attacked.
The SDF, under certain conditions, has already become able to engage in collective self-defense through security legislation that took effect in 2016. Further loosening the restrictions is certain to trigger a public backlash, as many have already been upset about the security legislation, seeing it as eroding postwar pacifism.
Abe said at the parliamentary committee that his Article 9 revision proposal would not authorize the full exercising of the right to collective self-defense, because the second paragraph will remain as is.
Article 9 is an iconic part of the Constitution, which many conservatives see as a humiliating imposition by the U.S.-led occupation after Japan's defeat in World War II. The public is divided over whether to change Article 9.
Amending the supreme law requires approval by two-thirds majorities in the House of Representatives and House of Councillors, followed by majority support in a national referendum.
To boost the chances of a first-ever revision of the postwar Constitution, the LDP is weighing proposals that will both meet its purposes as much as possible and at the same time not arouse strong opposition from the public.
The LDP plans to finalize its amendment proposals, which are expected to cover topics including Article 9, by its annual convention on March 25. It is expected to seek cooperation from other parties to support the proposals in the hope of putting them to a national referendum, possibly later in the year.