Editorial: Final draft of resolution on interpretation of Constitution

Time to abandon distorted interpretation, start over with clean slate

At discussions between the ruling parties yesterday, the government presented the final draft of a cabinet resolution that would change the interpretation of the Constitution to allow the exercise of the right of collective defense.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is in too much of a hurry to authorize the exercise of the right, will no doubt give the resolution its stamp of approval. But will New Komeito, the “peace party,” do so? There’s still time for New Komeito to forgo a final agreement with the LDP.

Article 9 of the Constitution states that “the Japanese people forever renounce…the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” A Cabinet resolution that authorizes the use of force based on the right of collective defense, even if its use is limited to a minimum, is anything but a valid interpretation of the Constitution.

That is because it cannot eliminate the risk of departing from the exclusively defense-oriented posture Japan has maintained as national policy or from pacifism, one of the three basic principles of the Constitution. Is the government going to completely reverse course from the path Japan has taken since the end of the war with just a little over one month of secret meetings?

A key point of the final draft is its establishment of three new conditions for the use of force and approval of the use of the minimum required level of force if all three of these conditions are met. The draft includes situations in which a nation with which Japan has “a close relationship” comes under attack, even if Japan is not attacked directly, thus permitting the exercise of the right of collective defense.

The final draft also states that Japan “must pursue a more unwavering path as a peaceful nation” and includes other similar language. This certainly rings hollow.

But during an appearance on an NHK television program two days ago, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of New Komeito, said, “There are multiple layers of checks in place, so I don’t think there is any risk of a broadened interpretation [of the Constitution].”

It is true that in the course of the discussions New Komeito succeeded in changing the wording from the “risk” of a threat to Japan’s existence to a “clear danger.” Nevertheless the concept of “clear danger” is vague and leaves room for the administration at the time to broaden the interpretation of the Constitution as much as it likes.

And yesterday a matter of serious concern was raised. The government put together a list of potential questions and answers in which it said that the use of force under the collective security of the United Nations “would be permitted under the Constitution if the three conditions are met.”

Apparently the government is assuming a scenario under which the minesweeping fleet of the Self-Defense Forces would operate in the vicinity of a conflict-torn region where a multinational force has been mobilized under the terms of a United Nations resolution. Because minesweeping is regarded as the use of force, New Komeito opposed this move, so there is no specific reference to this scenario in the final draft of the Cabinet resolution.

If questioned about this in the Diet, the administration apparently intends to reply that it is not in violation of the Constitution. This means further broadening the interpretation of the Constitution outlined in the Cabinet resolution to be pushed through to change it. This makes the discussions between the ruling parties completely irrelevant.

But has an understanding between the ruling parties really been reached? The growing speculation on this question is the result of the unwise decision to use secret talks.

Looking back at the discussions that have taken place thus far, it seems as if the LDP has set the pace from start to finish. New Komeito may not have been able to put the brakes on the effort to reinterpret the Constitution because the LDP didn’t take them seriously, figuring the party would not leave the ruling coalition.

The addition of new provisions to the Constitution, which New Komeito has advocated, surely cannot refer to adding an interpretation to the Constitution that has been pushed through. The party apparently plans to seek input from its local organizations today, but if they gather opinions within the party under the assumption that the coalition will be maintained, this may lead to problems in the future.

There has not been ample national debate on this issue at all. Trying to get the Cabinet resolution passed early next month is unreasonably hasty. The central government and the ruling parties must not insist on passage of the final draft and must start afresh.

(Originally published on June 28, 2014)