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Imperial Geopolitics, China, and Article 9:
Forces Driving the Possible Revision
of the Japanese Constitution
October 2007
By Joseph Gerson*


"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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. (2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."
- Article 9, Japanese Constitution

When people in the United States ask me what is happening in Japan, I give them encouraging news. The Japanese people, I tell them, just voted “no confidence” in the Abe government’s embrace of 1930s militarism and hypernationalism. They sent their elite and the people of the world an inspiring and fundamentally important message that affirmed the fundamental values of democracy, rejected the subversive siren call of militarism, and communicated that they are still sobered by the lessons of the disastrous Fifteen Year War which we call World War II or the Pacific War.

I also paint a more complicated picture. The defeat of the LDP in the Upper House election was an important victory, but it was only one hurdle in a very long race. Before being ousted, Prime Minister Abe and his cohorts pushed through skewed legislation that established how referenda to revise the constitution will be held. As one LDP Diet Member put it since Abe was forced from office, he “produced a legal base to push constitutional revision after his resignation. [And] we will proceed again from this base.”

In fact, when the LDP developed its draft for a revised constitution, Prime Minister Abe’s successor, Yasuo Fukuda, played a “key role’ on a subcommittee that battered Article 9 – the heart of the Peace Constitution - beyond recognition. It is unlikely that the LDP will expend significant political capital to win the constitution revisions that it has been seeking since 1955 between now and the Lower House election. But, the campaign is likely to resurface in the Diet in 2008.

Unfortunately, the threat to the Peace Constitution is not limited to the LDP. Minshuto, most of whose leaders began their careers in the LDP, differs less from the LDP than do U.S. Democrats from U.S. Republicans, and they are less than fully committed to the Peace Constitution. Polls taken in 2005 showed 67 % of Minshuto supporting revision of the Constitution and 49% in favor of revising Article 9.

Minshuto may not be hell-bent to trash the Constitution within the next year or two, an action which would which ratchet up already heightened tensions with China and Korea, but like many of its LDP forefathers, it is pressing the slow and steady revival of Japanese militarism and power. As the Asahi Shimbun editorialized in early October, Ichiro Ozawa’s proposal to deploy Japanese troops as part of United Nations “peacekeeping forces…would require a radical change in the traditional interpretation of the Constitution.” 

How has this dangerous situation come to pass? How have U.S. and Japanese military policies – few of which have anything to do with “defense” – led to a frontal assault on the Japanese peace constitution?

The simple answer is that post-cold war Japan was created and designed to function as a U.S. client state with its geostrategic, economic, political and intellectual resources at the service of the U.S. Empire. To do so, it embraced and restored to power, much of the Japanese elite and its political culture which were defeated in the Pacific War.  

There is, of course, greater complexity on each side of the Pacific. Current U.S. Asia policy and long term U.S. encouragement to banish Article 9 to the dust bin of history (most recently reiterated in the Armitage-Nye Report) needs to be seen in the context of at least two centuries of U.S. empire and U.S. post-Cold War commitments to contain China. During the Clinton Administration, China was seen as a "rising power" that needed to be integrated into the U.S.-Japanese dominated Asia-Pacific and global systems, and it was thought that Japanese military muscle and resources could provide essential leverage for this effort. The Bush II Administration has been clear in successive policy statements that Beijing is Washington's most likely "strategic competitor,” and the specter of China has been a major factor in Vice President Cheney’s campaign to design and impose "the arrangement for the 21st century" – the colonization of time as well as space. As Cheney said long before the 9-11 attacks provided political cover and opened the way for Bush II to become a self-described – and nationally self-destructive – "war president," the organizing dynamic driving the administration was to ensure that the U.S. remains the world's dominant economic, political and military power for generations to come.

Central to imposing the "arrangement" has been the continued and disastrous effort to enforce what Noam Chomsky called "Axiom number 1 of U.S. policy," that neither the United States' enemies nor its allies gain independent and privileged access to the global "prize" of Middle East oil reserves. During the Cold War this meant Arab nationalists, the Soviet Union and Washington's European allies. Today the concern is that indigenous Islamist forces - including the clerical regime Iran - and China not be allowed to undermine U.S. Middle East hegemony. The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which Japan's ostensibly non-existent military has been deeply involved, are being fought for these reasons.

Japanese who know their history will appreciate the resonances of history. It was an oil embargo designed to punish Japan for its invasion of Indochina that precipitated the disastrous decision to bomb Pearl Harbor. Tokyo’s imperial warlords sacrificed the people of Japan, betting that if the U.S. Navy could be removed from the picture, Indonesian oil could fuel Japan’s stalled conquest of China. The murderous consequences for Japan and its neighbors were even greater than those of what is widely seen as the “greatest strategic blunder in U.S. history:” President Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

The U.S. has long understood itself as an Asian power. U.S. forces quietly supported Britain during the Opium war. Before Admiral Perry's warships "opened" Japan, they asserted U.S. interests in Korea. In the 1850s, William Seward, who later served in Lincoln's cabinet, advocated that if the U.S. was to replace Britain as the world's most powerful nation, it would first need to dominate Asia. In an era when battleships and merchant ships were fueled by coal and needed to refuel more frequently than they do today, Seward envisioned two routes to Asia: The southern route passed through Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines, which were already occupied by European colonial regimes. The northern route was via Alaska, which he secured from Russia for $7,200,000. With the defeat of Spain and Philippine nationalists and the annexation of Hawaii between 1898 and 1903, Washington secured the southern route. And, after defeating Japan in the mid-20th century struggle for military and neo-colonial dominance of the Asia-Pacific, the Pacific was transformed into an "American Lake", with Japan serving as the privileged "Keystone" of the United States' Asia-Pacific Empire.

The road from the military occupation of Japan to its becoming Washington's most important Asian ally passed through at least five stages: 1) the end of the occupation and the secret signing of the U.S.-Japan mutual Security Treaty in 1952, 2) the traumatic 1960 treaty revision; 3) the 1969 Nixon-Sato communiqué providing the reversion of Okinawa and a growing role for the emerging Japanese military under the Nixon-Doctrine, 4) the Reagan-Suzuki and Reagan-Nakasone communiqués which restructured the alliance to reflect Japan's enormous economic and technological power, and 5) the current phase, which began with the 1996 Clinton-Hashimoto agreement to secure the long-term presence of U.S. bases in Japan and provided for increased military and diplomatic roles for Tokyo, both regionally and globally. More recently, this has included the unconstitutional overseas deployment of Japanese troops to support the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Abe government’s failed campaign to fulfill the LDP's 1955 pledge to remove the heart of the Peace Constitution -- 's Article 9. It is also present in the current Armitage-Nye call for securing the alliance through the creation of a U.S.-Japanese Free Trade Agreement.

The initial U.S. occupation of Japan was marked by competing visions of U.S. strategic interests as contending forces vied to recreate the Japanese state in ways that reinforced U.S. power and "interests" in Asia. "China hands", primarily Foreign Service and military officers who had served in China during the war, viewed Japan through the lenses of the immense suffering inflicted by the Japanese conquest and occupation of much of China and other Asia-Pacific nations. They sought to demolish the structures of Japanese military power and to impose major democratic reforms on Japanese culture and politics. The "Japan crowd", with ties to the Japanese pre-war elite and appreciation for its history traditions, worked to make the land of the rising sun the "keystone" of U.S. power in Asia. Toward that end, they attempted to maintain many of Japan's pre-war economic and political structures – including the Emperor System – and to reduce, not eliminate, Japanese military power. With the "loss of China" to the communist revolution fast approaching in 1948, the China hands lost their influence to Washington's anti-communists and the Japan crowd. U.S. industrialists, who saw more profit in controlling the Zaibatsu than in destroying them, and who feared the emerging power of Japanese labor unions, made common cause with ideological militarists in Washington who wanted to use every possible resource – including Japan – to fight what they saw as "world communism."

In 1948, with much of the China hands' agenda - including Article 9 - either in place or on track, Truman ordered a "reverse course." General Wiloughby, MacArthur's "lovable Fascist," recruited former right-wing leaders of the Imperial Army and Navy, as well as Yakuza, to identify, attack, and purge "communists" and many labor organizers. That purge extended beyond Communists and included the dismissal of 20,000 civil servants and teachers, police raids against newspapers and radio stations, and the ouster of leftist professors. Previously ousted war criminals were rehabilitated, while those who had served as the foot soldiers for democratic reforms were disowned.

As Muto Ichiyo has written, the post-war Japanese state was not based on a single legitimizing principle. Under pressure from competing sectors of U.S. and Japanese elites, three mutually exclusive principles were ambiguously incorporated into the modern Japanese political system. Today, with Japan’s overseas military deployments, the still continuing campaign to trash Article 9, and the largely hidden debate over whether Japan should become a nuclear power, we are witnessing the tensions between these resulting political poles playing themselves out dangerously. They include: 1) the pacifist Constitution, 2) the military alliance with the U.S. through which Washington assumed preponderant responsibility for the military and diplomatic functions of the Japanese state, and 3) "the somewhat surreptitiously but stubbornly preserved” continuity of the prewar imperial state in the form of Emperor Hirohito remaining on the throne and old line imperialists and militarists from Yoshida to Class A war criminal Kishi and his grandson Abe serving as U.S.-sponsored Prime Ministers. With the signing of the Mutual Security Treaty, the U.S. garnered the ostensible legitimacy it needed to preserve Japan as its "unsinkable aircraft carrier." More than 100 U.S. military bases and installations remain to this day from Okinawa to Hokkaido, which reinforce U.S. dominance in Asia and the Pacific. This includes fighting very real wars of aggressoin and repeatedly threatening nuclear attacks against China, Russia, Korea, Iran and Iran.

Japan, still the world's second largest national economy, remains Washington's invaluable junior partner, and it is an essential ally in the U.S. effort to “contain” China. "Mapping the Global Future", the 2004 report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project anticipates that "by 2020 China's gross national product (GNP) will exceed that of individual Western economic powers except for the United States." It compares China and India, the latter of which is now tacitly allied to the United States, with "a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century - which [will] transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries." China, it seems, has not only "stood up" but is on the verge of reclaiming the roles it has traditionally played through much of the last 5,000 years of human history.

While there have been very real differences between so-called Clinton "multilateralism" and Bush unilateralism - including the Bush National Security Strategy threat of preventive unilateral attacks against emerging rivals - it is difficult not to notice powerful continuities. These have been articulated again in the most recent Armitage-Nye Report and recommendations. Nye, who served in the Clinton Pentagon and carried primary responsibility for U.S. Asia policy throughout most of the Clinton era, has repeatedly warned that twice in the 20th century the U.S. and Britain failed to integrate rising powers (Germany and Japan) into their systems, and that the results were catastrophic world wars which must not be repeated. China, he insists, must be both engaged and contained.

Nye's associate, Ezra Vogel, who taught with him at Harvard and is best known for his book Japan as #1, served as the State Department's intelligence chief for Asia during the first Clinton administration. Vogel's dream was to negotiate a "grand bargain" with China which the Bush administration seems to be pursuing in its own way. When I interviewed Vogel in 1998, at the time the U.S. was negotiating with China about its entry into the World Trade Organization, Vogel explained that his "grand bargain" could be achieved by threatening to encircle China with missile defenses that could theoretically neutralize all of China's missile forces. The U.S. would then offer Beijing a deal: If China deployed no more aggressive weapons than were already in its arsenal, and if China did not adopt more aggressive military doctrines, the U.S. would limit its missile defense deployments. When I pointed out that, with hundreds of U.S. military bases and nearly 100,000 U.S. troops along China's periphery, as well as the nuclear-armed Seventh Fleet remaining all in place -- not to mention U.S. militarization of space -- that the U.S. would functionally be recreating the power relations that followed the Opium War, Vogel's response was "So?"

As their votes to fund “missile defenses” and the bi-partisan (Republican and Democratic) Armitage-Nye Report demonstrate, aspiring Democrats have yet to offer an alternative policy vision. Beijing's response, however, has been clear: Missile defenses are shields designed to reinforce U.S. first strike nuclear swords. Build them if you wish. We will build as many missiles as are necessary to overwhelm your missile defense systems.

Bush, as we know, is pressing ahead with missile defenses in Asia and Europe. The North Korean and Iranian nuclear and missile programs serve as ideal covers for their deployment and for other military planning targeted primarily against China, Russia and those who would challenge U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. In addition to "missile defenses" being deployed at sea, the first land-based anti-missile missiles have been deployed in western Alaska, something that would have brought a smile to that old imperialist, William Seward, and which certainly cheers U.S. military-industrial complex CEOs and stockholders today.

There is also the reality that since the Clinton era - if not before - U.S. leaders have sought to draw on Japanese technology in the design and construction of "missile defenses", and to base this first-strike system across Japan where they can be arrayed against China and North Korea. Sectors of the Japanese elite have been attempting to mobilize public opinion with the argument that the constitution must be revised if Japan is to build missile defenses against “fearsome” North Korea, and the annual Defense White Paper has named China as a strategic threat to Japan.

The Bush administration has also pressed ahead with so-called "diversification" of U.S. military bases to better encircle China. Thus we see the "realignment" of U.S. bases in Japan designed to quiet Okinawan opinion while diversifying the locations and increasing the power of U.S. military bases across Japan. For similar reasons, U.S. forces are being moved out of South Korea's major cities and away from the DMZ to Pyeontaek. The Chamorro people of Guam are being overwhelmed and their nation destroyed as that conquered island and neo-colony is being transformed into one of the United States’ primary military hubs. U.S. forces returned to the Philippines under the Visiting Forces Agreement, are constructing a new base of operations in Mindanao, and now have access to the entire former colony. U.S. Military ties with Indonesia are being restored. Australia has been promoted to serve as Washington's sheriff in the South Pacific. The U.S. is courting Vietnam, whose centuries old nemesis is China. There is the tacit alliance with India, recently reinforced by a nuclear deal that violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and by former Prime Minister Abe’s address to the Indian Parliament. And China’s encirclement is completed with the post-9-11 U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Reality is, of course, complex, and even as the U.S. works to threaten and contain China militarily, the two states are "engaged" and share a host of interests. Their economies are increasingly entwined, even as they are consumed by traditional capitalist competition. China's priority is economic, not military, development. It seeks a “peaceful rise,” and it's functional social contract provides that so long as the Chinese economy grows, providing more jobs and economic security, the more secure will be the rule of the Leninist ruling elite of this increasingly capitalist nation.

In something of a reversal of fortunes, Chinese economic growth and security, and possibly the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party, appear to depend on continued access to U.S. markets. The September 11 attacks also opened the way for U.S.-Chinese collaboration to contain Islamist terrorism, an opening that Beijing has used to clamp down on Uyghur’s and other Islamic minorities seeking greater autonomy. For these reasons, Beijing has been less inclined than Moscow to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to aggressively confront and challenge Washington. With the vast trade imbalance, reinforced by the Walmartization of the U.S. economy, China also holds important trump cards in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars of currency reserves and bonds. These, He Fan of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reminded us in August, can dumped onto the market or changed into Euros during international crises with staggering consequences for the U.S. economy and all who depend on it.

Potential challenges to U.S. regional - and global - hegemony extend beyond China. Remember, during the 1998 currency crisis, the Clinton administration killed efforts to create an Asian Monetary Fund. This was done to serve U.S. geostrategic ambitions, not out of concern for responsible financial management. The Armitage and Nye Report tells us that one of Washington’s greatest fears is the emergence of a Chinese-led unified Asian currency or trade zone that excludes or marginalizes the United States. And, at the cultural level, we may be looking at the future as more young South Koreans today study Chinese than English.

Encouraging Japanese hyper-nationalism as manifested by the short-lived Abe regime, pressing for revision of the Japanese constitution, and deepening and expanding the U.S.-Japan military alliance have been ideal ways to exacerbate Japanese tensions with North Korea and China in the age old game of imperial rule through divide and conquer.

With U.S. encouragement, beginning with Truman's demand that the Japanese military be reconstituted to support the U.S. during the Korean War, successive Japanese governments have restored Japanese military, as well as economic, power. Depending on which study you use, Japan has been one of the world's top military spenders for most of the past decade in total violation of Article 9. While Tokyo and Washington manufacture consent by appearing to tremble in the face of North Korea's missile program, Japan has sent the not-so-subtle message that its H-2 and other rockets can easily target China and Korea. Not content with having the world's most advanced fleet of destroyers, the Japanese navy is building its first small aircraft carriers for power projection As the primary author of Japan's Defense White Paper told me in 1996, for what were then three decades – now forty years, the Japanese military has interpreted the "peace constitution" as giving it the right to build and deploy tactical nuclear weapons (Hiroshima-size weapons.) This was, he said, a right that the JDA had not yet opted to exercise, but which could be transformed into active policies in the future. Japan's mountains of weapons grade plutonium - not to mention its new generation of militarist nationalists – understandably leads its neighbors to take the JDA seriously. Washington is even reported to have used the threat of allowing Japan to go nuclear as a means of disciplining Beijing.

A possible Japanese nuclear "threat" is taken seriously elsewhere in Asia. The two Koreas see Japan – not one another, China, or the U.S. as the greatest potential threat they face. Japanese anti-nuclear activists were, I think, surprised during the World Social Forum in Mumbai when a former member of India's nuclear establishment warned that if the Japanese movement fails to prevent Japan from becoming a nuclear power, there is little hope for preventing widespread nuclear weapons proliferation and the apocalyptic wars that will follow. While many across the world worry about Teheran’s nuclear program, some argue that it is pursuing “the Japanese option:” developing the technologies and resources to become a nuclear weapons state if and when its leaders decide that it is in the national “interest” to become a nuclear power.

Much as the U.S. used Prime Minister Kishi, the former Class A war criminal nurtured by the CIA, to ram extension of the Mutual Security Treaty through the Diet in 1960, the U.S. is encouraging increased Japanese militarism. Having demanded that Japan "show" its military "flag" and having actively encouraged Japan's ruling elite to revise its constitution, Washington has been willing to accept transgressions that horrify democratic Japanese and neighboring nations. U.S. leaders understand that to change a constitution, you must first engineer profound social, intellectual and political change. Thus there is silence in the U.S. as right-wing ideologues, supported by senior figures in the LDP rewrite history textbooks so that young people are taught that Japan's Fifteen Year War was an advance – not a series of criminal aggressions, that the Nanjing Massacre never occurred, and that Okinawans were not forced to commit suicide by Japanese military forces. There is silence in the U.S. about teachers being punished for refusing to sing the wartime anthem that praises the Emperor and for failing to honor the flag of the so-called East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Washington turns a blind eye to Prime Ministers and cabinet members when they reify Yasakuni Shrine, honoring the tradition of Japanese imperialism and militarism from the war against China in 1895 through the catastrophic Fifteen Year war. And both Washington and Tokyo have exploited failed North Korean missile launches and its less than fully successful nuclear weapons test to incite political hysteria to build support for Japanese and U.S. militarism.

For more than half a century, the Japanese people and nation have served not only themselves but Asia and the world with Article 9. Even as it has been repeatedly violated, it has set important limits and restrictions on Japanese militarism that have been essential to Japanese and East Asian post-war peace and prosperity. It has provided a sense of hope and inspiration to people across the planet. Recent polls indicate that more than 70% of the Japanese people believe Article 9 should be retained. Yet, with encouragement and pressure from the United States, powerful political elites in the form of the LDP, Minshuto, Yomiuri Shimbun and others whose lineage traces to the old militarist regime, Prime Minister Abe and his successors continue to press the subversion of Japanese democracy in the service of militarism, profit, and shared interests with the U.S. empire.

The hopes of Asia and much of the world are with our democratic and peace-oriented counterparts in Japan. We wish you strength and wisdom in your struggle, which is also our own.

About the Author:

*Dr. Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and Direction of the Peace and Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee. His most recent book is Empire and the Bomb: How the U.S. Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World, published in Japan by Shinnihon Press.

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