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EDITORIAL | Time Has Come for Constitutional Reform Creating Japan's Army 

Earthquakes, tsunami, a global pandemic and deteriorating security environment have highlighted the urgency of constitutional reform for the people and nation.



constitutional reform
Representatives of the ruling and opposition parties (four on the right) attend a rally calling for constitutional revision in the afternoon of May 3. The rally took place in Tokyo's central Chiyoda Ward (© Sankei by Shunsuke Sakamaki)

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to drag on, Japan's Constitution enters its 76th year without constitutional reform.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has entered his third term as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and established a dictatorship. His administration has not concealed its pro-Russian stance. At the same time, Beijing is seeking an opportunity to annex Taiwan and has refused to rule out the use of force

North Korea flaunts the resolutions of the United Nation Security Council as it repeatedly launches ballistic missiles. It is proceeding with advancing its nuclear program.

Japan is surrounded by a triumvirate of nuclear-armed tyrants: China, Russia, and North Korea. However, the preamble of the current Constitution states, "We have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world."

It is clear that such naivety is totally divorced from the reality of Japan's current predicament. That is why constitutional reform is urgently needed.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the Self-Defense Force personnel at Iruma Air Base on the morning of January 31 (© Sankei by Manabu Matsumoto)

What's Needed to Protect Japan

The biggest flaw in the current Constitution is the lack of provisions for national defense.

Ten years ago, in April 2013, The Sankei Shimbun published a draft of a proposed new constitution, "Outline of the 'Constitution of the People.'"

The draft "Constitution of the People" included a chapter on "National Defense." This chapter specified that the nation "shall maintain an army" to safeguard its independence and security and to contribute to international peace. It also included the establishment of a military court to ensure political control over the military and to maintain military discipline.

Both diplomacy and national defense must be ensured in order to protect the people of Japan from various threats. As with other democracies, transforming the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) into an army would preserve the peace by strengthening deterrence and resilience based on the right of individual and collective self-defense. 

In order to achieve this, it is essential to delete the second part of Article 9 of the current Constitution, which stipulates that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."  This is also provided in the draft "Constitution of the People."

A Self-Defense soldier rescues a citizen after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Self-Defense Forces, Covering Emergencies

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Japan Innovation Party (Ishin no Kai) are advocating the explicit inclusion of the SDF in the Constitution. This move would not be the defense overhaul outlined in the draft "Constitution of the People." However, it would rectify the current abnormal situation in which many constitutional scholars have declared the Self-Defense Force "unconstitutional." Although it is not the goal, it would constitute a significant step forward.

Another pressing issue is the creation of an emergency clause. A massive Nankai Trough earthquake, an earthquake directly under the Tokyo metropolitan area, or a large-scale terrorist attack could occur at any time. There is also concern about a Taiwan contingency that would link directly to a Japan contingency.

National elections could also be temporarily suspended in the event of a major natural disaster or other emergency. It is thus appropriate that the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution is discussing whether to include a provision for extending the term of office of Diet members.

However, that is not enough. The "Constitution of the People" provides that, in the event of an emergency, Cabinet orders may be established in lieu of law. The Cabinet could also make emergency fiscal appropriations by permitting changes in the budget. Unexpected crises could threaten both the lives of the people and the constitutional order itself. In order to protect the nation, a mechanism to temporarily gather government authority in the Cabinet is essential.

constitutional reform
The "Constitution of the People" was the topic of a presentation symposium in Tokyo, on April 26, 2013. (© Sankei)

Emergency Cabinet Powers: The Debate

The LDP recognizes that provisions for emergency Cabinet orders and emergency fiscal appropriations are necessary. Furthermore, the Japan Innovation Party and the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) are agreeable to the idea. Meanwhile, the Komeito is taking a cautious stance out of concern for consistency with Article 41 of the Constitution. That provision says that the Diet is "the sole law-making organ of the State."

However, both the draft "Constitution of the People" and the proposed LDP amendments include a clause to address the Cabinet's power. Specifically, it would expire after the state of emergency is lifted, if the Diet does not approve emergency decrees. Hopefully, the Komeito will prioritize the safety of the people and agree to constitutional reform. 

In contrast, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) argues that extension of a term should be addressed in an "emergency assembly of the upper house," as stipulated in Article 54 of the current Constitution. If this were applied, the Cabinet would have to hold a general election within 40 days of the dissolution of the House of Representatives. An extraordinary session of the Diet would follow this election within 30 days from the date of the election. Between the election and Diet session, the Cabinet would also convene an emergency assembly. 

While Article 54 does not anticipate a prolonged Diet session, what if the situation is such that a general election cannot even be held?

constitutional reform
An English translation of the main part of the draft Constitution of the People was prepared for accessibility and published by The Sankei Shimbun on May 1, 2014.

A Well-Informed Public

In an interview with The Sankei Shimbun, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reiterated his intention to achieve constitutional reform during his term as party president. That term ends in September 2024. 

He also said, "We must work hard to give the public the opportunity to choose as soon as possible."

Actions must follow words. The LDP, Komeito, Japan Innovation Party, and the DPP together have secured more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the Diet. That means those in favor of constitutional reform now possess the numbers necessary to propose a constitutional amendment. 

The Commission on the Constitution should swiftly begin formulating a draft constitutional revision. In doing so, the commission should refrain from paying undue consideration to the CDP and the Communist Party. Both parties are stubbornly hampering constitutional reform.

As president of the largest party, Prime Minister Kishida must begin actively persuading the people of the need for constitutional reform.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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