The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday decided to pursue a constitutional amendment plan proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to recognize Japan's defense forces in the war-renouncing Article 9, despite objections from some of its lawmakers.
The move follows months of talks within the party, after Abe, who is eager to make the first-ever revision to the 1947 Constitution written during the U.S.-led postwar occupation, came up with an idea to clarify the legal status of the decades-old Self-Defense Forces.
"We will work toward the direction" of seeking a revision that is in line with Abe's idea, veteran LDP lawmaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, who heads the LDP's constitutional reform task force, told reporters after a plenary meeting on the issue Thursday.
Some LDP members, including former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, continued to insist on a more substantial change of Article 9 that involves deleting a paragraph banning Japan from possessing a military with "war potential." The move would imply removing postwar constraints imposed on SDF activities.
But the majority has leaned toward the view that an attempt to change the original text of the article, which is widely cherished among the public, will raise the risk of the public rejecting it, jeopardizing the historic chance to revise the Constitution.
The LDP has not yet decided on the specific lines to be added to Article 9, but Hosoda said the "direction" is shown in a working draft that created a new "Article 9-2" section saying the SDF shall be maintained "as an armed organization" for Japan to take "necessary self-defense measures."
The draft is intended to show that the new lines added to Article 9 will have no effect on restricting the activities and capabilities of the SDF.
But opposition parties and critics fear the original text may lose its significance through the change, citing a general rule in legal interpretation that newer legislation supersedes prior law.
Questions are also likely to be raised on whether the move will open up the possibility of allowing the SDF to come to the aid of its allies under armed attack — a notion called collective self-defense — with no preconditions. Japan has enacted controversial security legislation to exercise the right to collective self-defense, but it is only allowed in a limited manner.
The LDP hopes its revision proposal for Article 9, along with suggestions to rewrite other clauses of the Constitution, such as those linked to education and the electoral system, will be used as a springboard for further discussions with other parties.
Amending the supreme law requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the parliament, followed by majority support in a national referendum. The LDP and other forces supportive of revising the Constitution currently control the required seats in the Diet.
"We will probably have some ups and downs as we talk with other parties and explain our plans to the public…We will probably need a lot of energy, but I think we've been able to mark the start (of the process)," Naoki Okada, a member of the task force, told reporters.
In January, Abe seemed eager to see a motion to amend the Constitution initiated by the Diet later in the year. But prospects of that are unclear, with opposition parties turning up the heat against Abe amid deepening suspicions of cronyism following recent revelations that the government falsified records related to the issue.
Abe came up with his Article 9 revision proposal in May last year, arguing that the lack of a reference to the SDF in the supreme law leaves room for them to be called "unconstitutional." The lack of a clear reference also makes it "irresponsible" to ask troops to risk their lives to defend Japan against North Korea and other security threats, he said.
Media polls have shown that the public is divided over Abe's push to revise Article 9.
While many countries have constitutions that do not allow their governments to launch wars of aggression, the pacifism written into Japan's Constitution is said to be unique.
The second paragraph of Article 9 is characteristic of this, stating that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained" and that "the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."
The government frames the SDF, established in 1954, as different from ordinary militaries, with the use of force strictly limited to self-defense and the possession of armaments restricted from reaching a level constituting "war potential."
But the SDF have expanded their activities over time and have become known as one of the top 10 well-equipped and well-funded forces in the world, leading some constitutional scholars to argue that the SDF are "unconstitutional."