Interviews on Changing the Interpretation of the Constitution: Comments from 16 Experts

Approval of the right to collective self-defense is pursued by the government

On May 15, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his desire to pursue full discussions on changing the interpretation of the Constitution in order to exercise Japan’s right to collective self-defense. But is there a real need to exercise this right? And what issues would such a change involve? The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed 16 experts in various fields for the series, “Interviews on Changing the Interpretation of the Constitution.” Their comments are summarized below.

Problematic procedure

Masahiro Sakata, former Director-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau
Approving the right to exercise collective self-defense would be equivalent to removing Section 2, Article 9 of the Constitution, which states that Japan will not maintain the potential to wage war and denies the right of belligerency. The pacifism of the Constitution will be marred. From the standpoint of constitutionalism, too, it is by no means desirable to have the Cabinet arbitrarily tinker with the interpretation of the Constitution.

Yasuo Hasebe, professor at Waseda University (then professor at the University of Tokyo)
The Constitution prevents the state from pursuing power that spirals out of control. It is against the principles of constitutionalism for an incumbent government to arbitrarily change the interpretation of the Constitution. The government can approve the right to exercise collective self-defense by amending the Constitution. But in order to amend the Constitution, a full debate, involving us all, would be necessary.

Makoto Koga, former Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party
Since the current Constitution was promulgated under the occupation, some say that it was imposed on Japan. But because of this Constitution, Japan has enjoyed peace and prosperity. With regard to the interpretation of the Constitution concerning the right to collective self-defense, successive prime ministers have said that Japan has the right to collective defense but cannot exercise it. If the government wants to exercise the right of collective self-defense, it must follow the politically proper path of amending the Constitution.

Harm will come to the nation’s interests

Tatsuru Uchida, professor emeritus at Kobe College
The right of collective self-defense is a right to take up others’ quarrels. Only military powers have ever exercised this right. Japan, which has not waged war for 69 years, must not pursue this path. If approval is given to exercise this right, tensions will grow in East Asia, and the opportunity to maintain a good-neighbor policy will be undermined. There would be no upside for Japan.

Ukeru Magosaki, former Director-General of the International Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
If Japan approves the use of this right, it would negatively impact Japan’s security. Japan would be forced to back U.S. military strategy. In an extreme case, the Self Defense Forces may have to travel to the other side of the earth. There is also the risk of inviting terrorist actions from a third country. We must once again recognize the value of Article 9 of the Constitution.

Masaru Sato, former Principal Senior Coordinator for Intelligence Analysis at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a writer
If Japan must make a decision on whether or not the nation should approve the use of this right, it must correctly understand international conditions and fully discuss the advantages and disadvantages for our national security at the Diet. It is absolutely vital that the ruling and opposition parties express their views fully and then dissolve the Diet and hold a general election so the public can also weigh in.

Inadequate discussion

Tetsuo Saito, acting Secretary-General of the New Komeito
The use of this right must only be approved after extremely careful discussions. This would be a major turning point for Japan’s position and for our way of life, but I don’t think there has been enough discussion among the people of Japan. We must also give careful consideration to how changing the interpretation of the Constitution would be viewed in Asia and the rest of the world.

Kuniko Watanabe, producer of a documentary film on Keiji Nakazawa, the manga artist of “Barefoot Gen,” and a grandchild of atomic bomb survivors
Japan is a country that experienced a war in which it suffered A-bomb attacks by the United States. I can’t fathom why there are people here who would like to approve the use of the right of collective self-defense. Only a handful of politicians are voicing their views, while the people, who hold the sovereign right, are left out of the discussion.

Respect our history

Tamae Teranishi, a lawyer (member of the Hiroshima Bar Association)
If the right of collective self-defense is exercised in whatever way, it will inevitably result in the Japanese people killing others or being killed. The fact that past prime ministers respected Article 9 of the Constitution and did not approve the use of this right is a weighty fact. To now change the interpretation and approve its use would be unconstitutional, a violation of the law.

Noboru Matsuura, member of the Shobara City Council, who led the adoption of a written statement against changing the interpretation of the Constitution
Approving the use of this right would spoil Article 9 of the Constitution and change the nation. Since the war, Japan has built a peaceful society based on the Constitution. We must protect the Constitution and use it for good. Disregarding its intention, and changing it to suit your own views, is absolutely out of the question.

Integration with U.S. forces

Shizuka Kamei, former Minister of State for Financial Services and Postal Reform
Once the use of the right is approved, there is a risk that the United States would urge Japan to wage war together. Japan has sought to be a peaceful nation, maintaining the ideal that we renounce war as a means of settling international disputes. Japan should continue to do what it can within the framework of the Constitution. It should not force this change.

Hiroshi Oshima, professor of Hiroshima Shudo University
The U.S. government, whether Democrat or Republican, has viewed Japanese policy, in not exercising the right to collective self-defense, as hampering the establishment of a strong security framework. The United States wants the Self Defense Forces to fight with U.S. forces. If Japan approves the use of this right, there is a risk that the Self Defense Forces would be integrated with U.S. forces.

Necessary for security

Fumio Kishida, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Politicians and those at the helm of the country must not fail to carry out their responsibility to protect people’s lives and property and the liberty and independence of our nation. In order to respond to changing times, we must discuss these issues and prepare an adequate security policy. This is not at all a “conservative swing,” as some people suggest.

Shinichi Kitaoka, Deputy Chairman of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security
Considering the growing difficulties of Japan’s security environment, the right to individual self-defense is not enough. I believe we must establish a legal framework to build a suitable security alliance. It is wrong to say that the right to collective self-defense is outside the scope of the “use of the minimum necessary self-defense” permitted by Article 9 of the Constitution.

Taosa Ochiai, former commander of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s minesweeping unit in the Persian Gulf
“If Japan is attacked, we want you to help us, but if your country is attacked, we can’t help you.” This doesn’t sit well outside Japan. In the international community today, particularly in areas involving security, many nations are supporting one another. They tell us, “We don’t know how to respond if you say you can’t do anything because you have a pacifist constitution.”

A matter of course under current conditions

Kazuhisa Ogawa, special professor at the University of Shizuoka
To support each other in emergency situations is a prerequisite for forming an alliance. To exercise the right to collective defense is an inevitable responsibility and duty. It’s too childish and emotional to say that the use of the right is equal to fighting a hot war together. We must investigate how the right to collective self-defense can be pursued in line with Japanese pacifism.

Article 9
1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

(Originally published on May 16, 2014)