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Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War

Dear Friends and Supporters of Article 9,  

We are pleased to send you our quarterly eNewsletter with some information about the latest developments in the debate over Article 9 in Japan, as well as some of the Global Article 9 Campaign recent activities.

In This Issue




Since the beginning of the year, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been increasingly frank about his plan to amend Japan’s Constitution, including its war-renouncing Article 9, ahead of the Upper House election expected to take place this summer.

Constitutional revision on top of the election race  

Following the contentious Cabinet reinterpretation of Article 9 in July 2014, the passing of controversial security bills in the Diet in September 2015 and the ongoing movement of public opposition, many observers expected the issue to be put to rest for some time.

However, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has made clear that he wants to push his long-cherished goal of constitutional amendment forward. Speaking at a New Year’s press conference on January 4, he announced that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would “appeal for [revision of the constitution] strongly during the House of Councillors election campaign, just as we have thus far.” Abe further stated that he intends to include a promise to revise the Constitution as one of the key elements of the LDP electoral platform. “We will openly and squarely call for public support for revising the Constitution, which is one of our party’s main policy goals, to pave the way for amendment,” reiterated LDP Vice President Komura Masahiko, at an event celebrating Japan’s National Foundation in February.

Abe’s Timetable
In fact, Abe has even expressed his resolve to realize amendment during his term in office, which will end in September 2018.

“It has been the policy principle of the Liberal Democratic Party since its foundation to amend the Constitution, and we campaigned for constitutional amendment in the previous Lower House election (in December 2014),” Abe said at a Budget Committee meeting of the House of Councillors on March 3. “As such, I, as the party president, want to pursue the goal.”

With two and a half years left in office, it will not be an easy task for Abe to complete the process of constitutional amendment in such a short timeframe. As a matter of fact, a number steps must be followed, including establishing a broad consensus between the ruling and opposition parties in principle and on a list of specific points of revision, obtaining agreement on detailed language, and finally securing a majority of support in a national referendum that can only take place after a preparation period of 60 to 180 days after the votes in the two Diet chambers.

Thus, this announcement took many by surprise, including even members of the ruling coalition. Some have expressed concerns that pushing too hard, too fast could result in an unwanted electoral backlash. “We are worried that Abe’s eagerness could give opposition parties now in disarray over their policies a rallying point and that his comments could be exploited” in the House of Councillors election this summer, reacted Urushibara Yoshio, Chair of Komeito's Central Secretariat.

Securing a majority
Indeed, to go ahead with the process of constitutional amendment, the ruling coalition needs to have a two-third majority in both Houses of the Diet. Even if the ruling parties already controls two-third of the seats in the Lower Chamber, they would still need a “landslide victory” in the upcoming election in the Upper House election.

Conceding that “it will be virtually impossible for our party alone to secure a two-thirds majority in both Diet houses”, Abe is seeking cooperation not only within the ruling bloc but also with other parties, notably pro-amendment political forces such as Initiatives from Osaka (Osaka Ishin no Kai) and other like-minded lawmakers.

Rumor has it that Prime Minister Abe is even contemplating dissolving the Lower House for a snap election at the same time as the poll for the Upper House. “If we seriously aim to amend the Constitution, we have no choice but to hold Lower and Upper house elections on the same day and aim for an overwhelming victory,” a LDP member said.

On the other aisle of the political spectrum, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party, in a strategic move aimed at countering the push, decided to join forces and merge into a unified opposition party that was launched at the end of March.

According to its draft platform, the new party, named Minshin To (The Democratic Party, in English) will “firmly safeguard constitutionalism based on freedom and democracy,” preserve Japan’s commitment to an exclusively defense-oriented security policy, and envision a “future-oriented constitution”. Among its priorities, Minshin To intends to abrogate the controversial security bills adopted in September. However, it does not appear opposed to constitutional amendment as such, but rather to the kind foreseen by the administration in place.

But which parts of the Constitution does Abe want to rewrite?
Rewriting the Constitution has always been Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s declared political objective. In order to achieve his goal, he initially chose to pursue a strategy of calculated vagueness.

Indeed, on numerous occasions, Abe tried to avoid discussion on what specific provision he intends to revise. Speaking on a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) television program on January 10 for instance, he claimed: “As for which provisions (to focus on), I believe discussions will deepen in the days ahead.” A few weeks later, at a Lower House Budget Committee session, Abe even argued he “would like to first revise clauses in the Constitution, which a two-thirds majority in the Diet will agree to rewrite.”

To that end, the administration is repeatedly calling for a deepened public debate and has initiated discussions on less-contentious aspects, notably on adding a clause in the constitution on emergency situations such as major disasters. But most critics are well aware that this discussion over “emergency situations” is only a first step – a way of testing the public’s mood toward further constitutional amendments on the more divisive issues.

In 2012, when Abe returned to power, the LDP put forward a draft amendment of the constitution that proposed a number of such controversial changes. This draft continues to be the basis of Abe’s vision for constitutional revision. The document includes, among other proposals, removing Article 97, which guarantees fundamental human rights and the supremacy of the constitution; increasing the Emperor’s powers; limiting the freedom of speech "for the purpose of interfering public interest and public order”, curtailing the independence of the judiciary from political control, and other changes  that represent a serious setback in terms of democracy and human rights.

Target: Article 9
It makes no doubt that Abe has war-renouncing Article 9 on the top of his mind, and in recent weeks, he has made this increasingly clear.

On February 3, while addressing a Diet session, Abe referred to the LDP draft document as the basis for his plans to amend Article 9. "Our party has indicated a form for the Constitution we should have in the future, such as clarifying the right of self-defense and stipulating the establishment of a new organization for self-defense," he said.

Indeed, the 2012 LDP draft document replaces the second paragraph, which states that armed “forces and other war potential shall never be maintained" and instead sets up a “National Defense Force”. It also adds a third paragraph, by which the new force is granted the mandate not only to defend the territory from a foreign attack, but also to participate in peacekeeping operations, maintain domestic public order and protect individual rights.

During the same session, he spoke of the contradiction between the existence of the Self-Defense Forces and the ban on Japan maintaining armed forces, to argue “there is a prevailing belief that this situation must be eliminated.”

The remark came in response to a question posed by his close aide Inada Tomomi, who referred to the conclusion of a July 2015 Asahi Shimbun survey carried among Japanese constitutional scholars and legal experts. The poll found that 63% of the respondents believed the presence of SDF troops either “violates” or “may violate” the Constitution. At the same time, 98% also pointed out that the new security bills that were being considered in the Diet either “violate” or “may violate” the Constitution.

Yet, in order to ram through his contentious bills, Abe then chose to ignore some of the findings of this very survey, by which a large majority of constitutional scholars said the legislation violated the constitution. He also ignored the widespread public opposition and overturned the constitutional interpretation of successive Cabinets.

On March 1, in a Diet session, Abe further suggested that the Constitution should be amended to give Japan the power to fully exercise the right to collective self-defense, based on the view that Japan “can exercise the rights it holds under international law as necessary to protect the lives of the people of Japan.”

Before Abe’s Cabinet re-interpreted Article 9 in July 2014 and passed new security bills in September 2015, the government had maintained for decades that Japan had the right to collective self-defense under international law but could not exercise it under its war-renouncing Constitution. Under the new legislation, Japan is now authorized to exercise collective self-defense, albeit only to defend the United States or other friendly nations under armed attack when Japan faces “a situation that threatens its survival.” It further geographically limits such authorization to the Korean Peninsula and in the East China Sea.

Thus, by suggesting that Article 9 should be amended to give Japan the power to fully exercise the right to collective self-defense, Abe seems to now want to remove such restraints.

Putting the cart before the horse
Many critics have forcefully condemned Abe’s methods and lines of argument for changing the constitution. The Asahi Shimbun, in a series of editorials, has qualified them of “perverse” arguments or “dangerous game plan.”

Changing the constitution cannot be a goal in itself and the strategy cannot be to start an amendment process with whatever will garner the needed support.

Yet for Abe, this is part of his agenda "to reclaim Japanese sovereignty" as "[the constitution] was created during the occupation period, and some parts are not in line with the times."

Considering revising specific parts of the constitution to address perceived shortcomings may not be absurd. But establishing a deadline for amending the constitution without having garnered public support and understanding for a specific target is not a way to proceed.

Picture credit: Reuters


Rivalries over sovereignty rights in the South China Sea go back centuries, but tensions in the region have been on the rise in recent years over territorial claims and strategic interests.

China and neighboring countries, notably Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan, are disputing territorial and maritime rights over and around the Spratly, Paracel and Natuna islands, as well as maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin, among others.

China not only claims historic rights in the South China Sea, but has also been pursuing a massive land reclamation program and construction activities on several small islands, reefs and atolls in disputed waters, on which it has been stationing troops, building runways, deploying aircraft and, most recently, installing surface-to-air missiles and radar systems.

Although the disputed islands are largely uninhabited, the South China Sea is considered of strategic importance: a vital trade route and resource-rich region, it is home to large fishing grounds and thought to have extensive mineral resources, and possibly substantial oil and gas reserves. Naturally, the South China Sea has become important to all countries in the region, as well as to other powers, including Japan, India, Australia and the US. It has thus become a theater of geostrategic competition over the political balance in the region.

Spheres of influence
While the source of the tensions is undeniably rooted in territorial and maritime sovereignty disputes among countries that have claims in the South China Sea, it has increasingly become a conflict of interests and projection of power between China, which considers the South China Sea as its “core interest,” and the US, which sees the area as key to its strategic “repositioning” in the Asia Pacific.

The US sees China’s efforts to bolster defense facilities in the South China Sea as a unilateral attempt to change the status quo in a region in which the US seeks to remain a dominant power. It also considers them a challenge to its strategy of “Pivot to Asia.” For its part, China denies pursuing militarization, insisting that deployment of defense facilities on an integral part of its territory falls within its sovereign rights and international law. Beijing has thus made clear that these moves will continue in the future.

Washington, while insisting that any territorial disputes must be resolved peacefully through legal means, argues that its main goal in the South China Sea is to keep maritime traffic open to all, on the basis that some $5 trillion worth in global trade passes through yearly. Over recent months, the US has stepped up its “freedom of navigation” operations, sending warships and aircraft into and over territorial waters claimed by China – and has made clear that it will keep on doing so.

Beijing considers US freedom of navigation patrols a provocation and accuses the US of "behind-the-scenes instigation and political maneuvering" to polarize political balance in the region.

Strategic partnerships
As a matter of fact, as tension builds up between China and other countries in the South China Sea, the dispute is bringing regional and global players into the picture. In a bid to counter what they consider China “bullying smaller nations through intimidation and coercion,” countries in Asia Pacific are shoring up regional alliances and intensifying a web of bilateral agreements.

For instance, in March 2016 alone, the US proposed reviving an earlier attempt to set up an informal strategic coalition composed of the US, Japanese, Australian and Indian navies. The idea for such a quadrilateral security network aimed at balancing China’s maritime expansion was first raised by Japan in 2007, but never materialized after China issued formal diplomatic protests about what it called a “mini-NATO.” India also announced plans to set up a satellite data transmission station in Vietnam, to be jointly operated by India and ASEAN countries, in order to “strengthen intelligence-gathering capabilities in the South China Sea.” Japan enhanced its ties with the Philippines through a new defense agreement, as it did last year with Indonesia, while actively seeking to strengthen its relations with ASEAN.

Military buildup
In addition to these strategic partnerships, rising tensions and perceptions of threats in the South China Sea are bringing about significant rises in military spending in 2015, with an almost 9% increase in Southeast Asia and 5.7% in Northeast Asia in 2015 – and as much as 57% and 75% respectively since 2006.

Out of a total of $342 billion in expenditures North- and Southeast Asia, China is by far the largest military spender, with an estimated $215 billion. Alone, China accounts for almost half of the total of whole regional spending in Asia/Oceania ($436billion) and expanded its military spending by 132% in the last decade, according to SIPRI. Following China’s lead, the Philippines increased its military expenditures by 25%, Indonesia by 16% and Australia by 7.8% last year.

And there is no sign that this trend is coming to an end; in fact, quite the contrary. Countries in the region are heavily strengthening their military forces by locally producing or importing weapons. In the last five years, Asia has been the largest regional recipient of arms transfers, accounting for close to half of global imports.

Risks for regional peace and stability
The biggest fear, warns SIPRI Senior Researcher Siemon Wezeman, is that increasing militarization in the area heightens the risk that the situation may degenerate into an open conflict.

With growing traffic in the South China Sea, the likelihood of unintended confrontation is becoming greater, due to intrusions in contested waters, or incidents or encounters at sea between Chinese and neighboring countries’ coastguard vessels, fishing boats and US freedom of navigation patrols.

The intensity of response to such incidents is also growing in proportion. For example, Indonesia responded unusually strongly when a Chinese Coast Guard almost intruded into Indonesian waters, and Vietnam has regularly announced that it is ready to confront China if it uses military force to assert its claims.

Yet, as much as it may be well known that increasing militarization, combined with divergent national interests, rising nationalisms and power projections heightens the possibility of confrontation, the risks should not be blown out of proportion.

War between the US and China over tiny islands is highly improbable. For one thing, Washington has made clear that while its alliance with Japan covers disputed islands in the East China Sea, the same would not apply to its partnership with the Philippines and disputed territories in the South China Sea. Reversely, China, through a high-ranking military officer, said the actions by the US Navy, although considered provocative, do not represent a pressing military threat.

As a matter of fact, although an increasing number of incidents over illegal fishing, near-encounters at sea and provocations in the area are being reported in the international media, it can be said that none of the parties involved are to date acting completely out of proportion. Deep economic integration and inter-dependence between China, ASEAN countries and the US remain very strong.

One could argue that these tensions are being used for domestic purposes: China, which has declared the South China Sea its backyard, cannot backtrack on its assertion that the area is under Chinese sovereignty in its entirety or on its capability to push back, from fear the Chinese Communist Party would loose face. Likewise, the US has been claiming widely and loudly that it is, and intends to remain, a major force in Asia-Pacific security.  Any compromise on the Chinese position may send the wrong signal to US allies in the region. Also in the Japanese context, Prime Minister Abe has been using the “China threat” to push forward his agenda of revising Japan’s war-renouncing constitution, including by allowing the exercise of its right to collective self-defense. And this rationale applies to most of the countries involved in the South China Sea.

Need for dialogue and prevention
Yet, given the stakes are so high (and the fact that China considering putting its nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert makes them even higher), it is a matter of urgency to find ways to diffuse tensions by promoting risk-reduction measures through new dialogue mechanisms to minimize risk of potential armed clashes arising from either miscalculation or unintended escalation of a dispute.

To that end, a regional approach to maintaining peace, security and stability in the South China Sea is important. Regional forums, such as ASEAN and the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), an informal mechanism established in 1994 to promote dialogue on security issues in the region, have an important role to play. Their call for the “non-militarization” – or rather de-militarization – of the South China Sea must be built on mutual face-saving compromises that engage all the actors in the area, address the many dimensions of the dispute and focus on building bridges towards a common human security framework.

Photo credit: Agence France Presse


GDAMSHundreds of groups around the world are mobilizing around the Global Days of Action on Military Spending (April 5-18). You can find out about these events here.

Also, please mark your calendar and register to the World Congress to be held in Berlin from September 30 - October 2 here.


In this inspiring piece, Betty Reardon of the International Institute on Peace Education speaks of the consequence of the long-term US military presence in Okinawa and the courage and tenacity of the people's movement of non-violent resistance to the militarization of their island.

Read the full article here.


A group of US students from Harvard Kennedy School in Boston made a video message of solidarity and support for all of us fighting to protect Article 9.

Watch the great 2min video here.

Thank you for your interest in and support for the Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War.


The Article 9 Team

Newsletter Editor:
Celine Nahory, International Coordinator
Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War / Peace Boat

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