Skip to main content

Pacifism threatened? Japan's Abe due to announce plan to loosen military limits

By Jethro Mullen and Will Ripley, CNN
updated 8:33 PM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to outline plans to change defense policy
  • The country's constitution renounces using force to settle international disputes
  • But Abe wants to reinterpret it to allow Japanese forces to defend allies
  • That has prompted concerns within Japan and from China

Tokyo (CNN) -- Nearly seven decades after the end of World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected Thursday to call for long-standing limits on the country's military to be eased to allow it to come to the aid of allies under attack.

Abe's drive to revamp Japanese security policy comes at a time of rising tensions with China and concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. But the prospect of a historic reinterpretation of the country's pacifist constitution has caused unease both within Japan and abroad.

The United States, Tokyo's main ally and the nation that oversaw the adoption of the constitution in 1947, has supported the idea of Japan's military taking on a more assertive role in the world.

As things stand, Japan can only use its military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to defend itself.

Japan eyes new military policy
How Japan's P.M. is shaking things up
Obama sides with Japan in island dispute

Article 9 of the constitution, written in the aftermath of Imperial Japan's defeat by the allies, says the Japanese people "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes."

If, for example, a U.S. ship came under attack in the Western Pacific, Japan would not be able to offer military help unless it was also threatened.

Public opinion divided

Abe, who is eager to strengthen Tokyo's alliance with Washington, wants Japan to be able to participate in collective self-defense and take a more proactive role in peacekeeping missions.

He set up an advisory panel on Japan's security policy, which delivered its report to him on Thursday. Abe is expected to announce his response to the panel's conclusions and outline how he plans to proceed.

He is unlikely to try to change the constitution, a formidable political challenge that would need the backing of two-thirds of both houses of Parliament and a referendum. Instead, he is expected to propose a reinterpretation of the existing text.

Opinion polls suggest Japan is deeply divided over the idea of such a change, with different surveys showing drastically different levels of support and opposition. The constitution, considered by many Japanese to have kept the country out of war since 1945, is widely respected.

Using national security arguments to reinterpret the Constitution on the issue of collective self-defense would "in effect, eviscerate the constitution," warned a commentary published Wednesday in The Asahi Shimbun, a leading English-language daily newspaper in Japan.

U.S. support

But one of Abe's advisers, Tomohiko Taniguchi, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour last month that Japan has adopted a "strange interpretation" of the constitution for "historical reasons."

"Everyone, every individual, and every nation" has the right to "act collectively with your like-minded peers," he said.

A reinterpretation would still require the support of Abe's governing coalition, including the New Komeito Party, which is considered to have a strong pacifist leaning.

The U.S. government, facing complex security challenges around the world, has made it clear it favors a change in Japan's military stance.

"The United States welcomes Japan's efforts to play a more proactive role in contributing to global and regional peace and stability, including reexamining the interpretation of its Constitution relating to the rights of collective self-defense," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a visit to Tokyo last month.

Chinese criticism

However, China, whose rising military spending has been cited by Japanese officials as a reason to adapt, has voiced criticism of the suggested changes.

"Abe's goal, while stripping a nation of its pacifist identity, simultaneously serves to endanger the lives of the nation's citizens as their country remilitarizes and, for all intents and purposes, becomes 'war ready,'" China's official news agency Xinhua said in an analysis article last week.

Some commentators in the West have also expressed concern about the way Abe appears to be going about the policy overhaul.

"The government's 'reinterpretation' is the most profound challenge to the pacifist constitution since 1947," a column in the British magazine The Economist said this week.

And an editorial in The New York Times warned that "such an act would completely undermine the democratic process."

CNN's Will Ripley reported from Tokyo, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:28 AM EST, Mon December 29, 2014
The missing AirAsia jet probably crashed into the sea, Indonesia's top rescue official said Monday, citing radar data from the plane's last contact.
updated 3:50 AM EST, Mon December 29, 2014
Here are four ways the two incidents appear to differ.
updated 5:09 AM EST, Mon December 29, 2014
Hundreds of passengers have endured a freezing night on a ferry, more than 24 hours after a fire broke out on the vessel in the Adriatic Sea.
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist and fatherof the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT