Reinterpreting Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan

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Kensuke Ueda outlines the context for the recent reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which until now outlawed war as a means of settling disputes. He suggests the manner in which the changes were pushed through is worrying for Japanese constitutionalism.

On 1 July this year the Japanese Government passed the cabinet decision on the ‘development of seamless security legislation to ensure Japan’s survival and protect its people’. This new direction in national security legislation has attracted a great deal of attention because it contains a change in the interpretation of Article 9 of Japan’s 1946 constitution, which states that ‘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’.

‘Change of interpretation’

The conventional interpretation of Article 9 states that it prohibits military intervention. However in light of ‘the right to live in peace’, recognised in the preamble of the constitution, and Article 13, which guarantees the ‘rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ as worth supreme consideration in governmental affairs, Article 9 cannot be interpreted as prohibiting Japan from taking measures to maintain its peace and security and to ensure its survival. The ‘use of force’ abroad has thus been judged not permitted, but Japan has long maintained a Self Defence Force (SDF), which is not seen as unconstitutional as long as it is used purely for the purpose of self-defence.

Following this logic, the government has until now understood that the use of force is permitted only in the event of armed attack against Japan. However, the security environment surrounding Japan has been fundamentally transformed by shifts in the global power balance and the rapid progress of technological innovation since Article 9 was adopted. Many now feel that in the future even an attack occurring against a foreign country could actually threaten Japan’s survival, depending on its purpose, scale and manner.

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