Japan’s Abe wants changes to constitution to reflect reality of rising regional threats

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking changes to his country’s post-World War II constitution that would allow for the reclassification and redefinition of the country’s self-defense forces to become a full-on military force with additional capabilities.

“Let’s fulfill our mission by clearly writing in the constitution the Self-Defense Forces that protect peace and independence of Japan,” Abe in a televised speech to members of his Liberal Democratic Party, Voice of America reported.

At present, Article 9 of the Japanese constitution states that Japan officially surrenders its right to have any armed forces. Obviously, the Ground, Sea, and Air self-defense forces are ‘armed forces’ in the vein of an actual military in just about every way but name.

By changing the constitution to allow for the creation of official military forces, then that would pave the way towards permitting Japan to shift its force structure, strategy, and tactics to better protect the country in a rapidly-changing risk environment.

Analysis: Strictly speaking, some experts believe that Japan has been in violation of Article 9 ever since it created a ‘self-defense’ force, and in a very technical sense there is an argument to be made there.

But practically speaking, Japan lives in a neighborhood that has become increasingly hostile over the past 20 years. Between China’s rise, Russia’s revisionist tendencies, and North Korea, it has become clear to Abe that his country’s ‘military’ has to take a different stance moving forward if Tokyo has any hope of fending off the sophisticated forces of Russia and China.

That will require constitutional changes. Right now, it appears as though Abe is headed for reelection later this week (20 Sept.) because he is seen as having enough support in Japan’s Diet to remain as the country’s prime minister for another three-year term (making him the country’s longest-serving PM).

Abe’s desire to change the constitution in order to make the Japanese military more muscular and even capable of offensive actions (in support of an ally, such as the United States) could then become a reality if he and his party get a little help from political rivals.

But getting the Japanese people to go along will be harder. If the Diet passes a measure allowing for constitutional changes to Article 9, then the issue must be put to a vote to the Japanese people, and right now, according to Japanese polling data, it does not appear as though there is enough support (a simple majority) for the change.

That could change, however, if Abe were to ‘sell’ it to the people. And that could easily happen because he can use real-world experiences such as the overflights of North Korean ballistic missiles last year to convince enough Japanese that a more robust military presence in and around the country is necessary in these times because the risks — also from Russia and China — are greater.

“Some of the capabilities Japan feels it needs to defend itself are becoming complicated by its constitution,” said Jonathan Miller, an expert with the EastWest Institute.

Changing the constitution would be a great security boost for Japan as well as the United States, which is primarily responsible for Japan’s defense. Japan isn’t looking to invade anyone; Abe merely wants the ability to redesign Japan’s security forces in a way that meets modern security challenges the self-defense force currently cannot handle.



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