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[Speaking Out] We Must Not Run from the Struggle to Constitutionalize SDF

In the face of existing and threatened global conflicts, Speaking Out argues that constitutional amendment must proceed swiftly, giving the SDF top priority.



Prime Minister Fumio Kishida inspects the troops after an aerial review ceremony also at Air Self-Defense Force Iruma Base in Saitama Prefecture. November 11, 2023 (© Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly vowed to amend Japan's constitution during his term. His term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ends in September 2024. By then, a constitutional amendment proposal has to pass both houses of the National Diet by a two-thirds majority. In addition, it has to obtain a majority in a national referendum. Speaking Out takes a look at what it's going to take to succeed. 

There is not much time left. It is time to determine which specific clauses should be revised.

The LDP has proposed a four-point amendment: 

  1. Stipulate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces
  2. Strengthen response to emergencies, 
  3. Dissolve the combined electoral districts for the House of Councillors, and 
  4. Improve education. 

PM Kishida has not clearly stated what will be included in the initial constitutional amendment proposal. However, some believe that an emergency response clause should come first. There are discussions ongoing between the ruling and opposition parties that are making progress on this. 

I don't agree with that, however. The SDF stipulation must never be excluded.

The Ground Self-Defense Force "Air Festa YAO 2023" featured helicopter flights and other events on October 29. (© Sankei by Hiroaki Nishikawa)

Face the Crisis of War on a Global Scale

Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which is responsible for international peace. Nevertheless, it has launched a war of aggression against Ukraine. Israel is currently exercising its right of self-defense against a brutal sneak attack by a terrorist organization. 

Close to home, the Chinese Communist regime could use force against Taiwan at any time. Since a Taiwan contingency is a contingency for Japan, the first defense operations under the current constitution, that is, the use of force by the Self-Defense Forces, could be soon. Naturally, there would be those killed in action. 

In the midst of such a global crisis, the Constitution of Japan still contains only the negative statement that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." (Article 9, Paragraph 2.) It does not mention the Self Defense Force at all.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force's state-of-the-art submarine Hakugei, leaving port on March 20 at the Kawasaki Heavy Industries Kobe Works in Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. (© Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

The Abe Proposal

In 2017, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed adding a clause specifying the existence of the SDF. Meanwhile, his proposal would leave the no-war-potential clause unchanged. 

At the time, some members of the LDP and private conservative groups argued that an emergency response clause should be prioritized in the first constitutional amendment initiative. Their argument was partly due to fierce opposition over even limited approval of the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. 

Abe's proposal was a rebuttal to that argument. He used the strategy of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito party. Komeito had advocated the addition of necessary clauses without changing current articles. 

PM Abe proposed the stipulation of the SDF in the constitution with the intent to protect the honor of the SDF members. Once this was achieved, of course, Abe was considering amending Article 9, Paragraph 2, to specify the possession of an official national army.

Members of the Japan Self-Defense Force search the waters off Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture for missing persons. April 10, 2023. (©Kyodo)

Honor to SDF Members Who Risk Their Lives

The members of the SDF pledge "to face any situation without fear of danger, to devote myself to the fulfillment of my duties, and to respond to the trust of the nation." The way to reward SDF members who risk their lives is to give them honor. 

Isn't it too disrespectful if the country were to order the SDF to risk their lives for the country while avoiding recognizing them? Shouldn't the SDF be the first item stipulated in the constitutional amendment proposal? 

Honoring the SDF should be first in order of our priorities. Politicians and we in the private sector must not shy away from the struggle to stipulate the existence of the SDF in the constitution.


(A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Find it in Speaking Out #1091 in Japanese on November 13 and in English on November 15, 2023.)

Author: Tsutomu Nishioka 

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a specially-appointed professor at Reitaku University.

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