Analysis: Japan's Abe gets second chance at loosening limits on military

TOKYO Tue Dec 11, 2012 2:14am EST

Then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, in this file picture taken September 12, 2007. A likely win by Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats in this weekend's election will give the ex-Japanese premier a second chance to achieve his goal of easing the limits of a pacifist constitution on the military to let Tokyo play a bigger global security role, Reuters reported on December 11, 2012. To match Analysis JAPAN-ELECTION/CONSTITUTION REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, in this file picture taken September 12, 2007. A likely win by Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats in this weekend's election will give the ex-Japanese premier a second chance to achieve his goal of easing the limits of a pacifist constitution on the military to let Tokyo play a bigger global security role, Reuters reported on December 11, 2012. To match Analysis JAPAN-ELECTION/CONSTITUTION

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

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TOKYO (Reuters) - A likely win by Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats in this weekend's election will give the ex-Japanese premier a second chance to achieve his goal of easing the limits of a pacifist constitution on the military to let Tokyo play a bigger global security role.

Surveys released on Tuesday showed the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its ally are headed for a big victory in Sunday's vote for parliament's lower house, returning them to power after a three-year gap.

As prime minister in 2006-2007, Abe made revising the 1947 constitution a key part of a drive to shed a U.S.-imposed "post-war regime" that conservatives say weakened traditional values and fostered too apologetic a view of Japan's wartime history. He still hopes to achieve what he has called his "life work".

Growing worries about China's military clout mean conditions are better than before for changing how the U.S-drafted charter is interpreted - if not formally rewriting the document yet - to let Tokyo drop a self-imposed ban on exercising its right to collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack.

That would allow Japan's military to shoot down a North Korean missile headed for U.S. cities, come to the aid of a U.S. vessel under attack on the high seas and generally ease the path for joint operations with U.S. forces, experts say.

"I think changing the interpretation is relatively easy procedurally and substantially and in terms of mood, it is the right atmosphere," said Richard Samuels, director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, an expert in Japan's security policies.

"He will do it because he can. The stars are aligned for that kind of shift sooner rather than later."

The constitution's Article 9 renounces the right to wage war to resolve international disputes and, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of a military.

But it has already been stretched to allow the maintenance of a military for self-defense as well as overseas activities, including troop deployment on a non-combat mission to Iraq.

Further moves, even if in some ways symbolic, would trigger outrage in China, where memories of Japan's wartime aggression run deep. A feud over rival claims to tiny islands in the East China Sea this year sparked violent protests and boycotts of Japanese firms, damaging trade between the region's two biggest economies.

"Right-wing tendencies in Japan are currently very strong, and Abe is acting on this. Looking at Japan now, it's not that likely that it will revive militarism, but if it alters the constitution, it will give Japan a chance to strengthen its military weaponry," said Huang Dahui, a professor and Japan specialist at People's University in Beijing.

"It presents an opening for there to be no restrictions. So in the long run, I think we need to be vigilant toward Japan."

WELCOME IN WASHINGTON

The changes would be welcome in Washington, which has long urged Tokyo to take on more of the alliance burden, and in parts of Asia, although any efforts to recast Japan's wartime history in less apologetic terms would be less so.

The Philippines said on Monday that a stronger Japan would act as a counterbalance to China's military rise, which is worrying smaller Asian nations as tensions grow over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"If moving to the right means increasing defense spending and getting rid of obsolete barriers to more effective defense cooperation with the U.S., then my answer to that is 'bring it on'. We absolutely welcome it and so does almost the entire Southeast Asia - not just the Philippines," said Michael Green at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Abe has also pledged to increase defense spending after a decade of decline, which would probably break through a de facto cap of 1 percent of GDP in place for decades.

"If moving to the right means gratuitous and not very smart moves, like revisiting the Kono statement, that's a problem for the U.S. ... not as a moral issue, but as a realpolitik issue."

Abe favors revising a 1993 statement by then-top government spokesman Yohei Kono, in which Japan admitted military involvement in forcing women into sexual slavery at wartime brothels, although he now says he would seek experts' views first.

The constitution, drafted by U.S. Occupation authorities during a frantic week in February 1947, has never been altered.

Revisions require approval by two-thirds of the members of both houses of parliament and a majority of voters in a national referendum. Changing the interpretation, however, can be done without legislation, so Abe will likely try that first.

CAUTIOUS APPROACH?

Still, the prospect of an election for parliament's upper house in July 2013 could persuade Abe to go slow to avoid upsetting the LDP's long-time partner, the more moderate New Komeito party.

"The next thing (on the agenda) is not the constitutional interpretation, the next thing is the upper house election next summer," said Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat who is now research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo.

"If you go too fast, it could have repercussions."

But he added: "It will be on the agenda sooner or later because this is the minimum level of required policy change to make our alliance (with the United States) and international peacekeeping operations more effective and credible."

Advocates of revising the charter say it has now been stretched to the limit so formal changes are needed both to make joint operations with U.S. forces easier and perhaps open the door to NATO-style security treaties with other countries.

A March 2012 survey by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper showed 54 percent of voters wanted some change to the charter, the first time that figure exceeded half since 2009.

Thirty-nine percent favored revising Article 9, while the same percentage said changing the interpretation was enough.

Many members of the ruling Democratic Party, expected to suffer a bashing at the polls, favor revising the constitution, but the party has been divided on the topic.

Abe managed during his last term to get parliament to enact procedures for a referendum, and he set up an experts' panel to outline scenarios where Japan should aid its ally.

But he quit for health reasons before the panel submitted the report and his more dovish successor shelved it.

Abe and his backers have made clear that their first target would not be Article 9 itself but a separate article spelling out the need for the two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament to enact revisions. They want to reduce that hurdle to a simple majority so that subsequent changes are easier.

Whether Japan's unstable political scene will allow Abe to stay in power long enough to achieve his goal is far from clear.

Japan has already had six prime ministers since 2006. All have seen their public ratings sink in a matter of months.

Abe could suffer the same fate.

"If the past is prologue, it (the decline in ratings) will be a pretty steep slope," Samuels said.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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Comments (3)
ShiroiKarasu wrote:
The issue is a very complex one:
1. My generation (I’m 24) was sold on the idea that one must get a college degree in order to be successful in life, sometimes by people who never got one and therefore had no idea that a diploma was not some magic key to getting an 80k/year job

2. My generation is the generation of torrenting music, media and other things for “free” (read: stealing) without any problem. We treat Uncle Sam similarly and don’t take our debt seriously. Neither do we have any respect for banks or lending institutions, in my experience. “They’re all crooks anyway,” we say, “so who cares if we don’t pay them back?” Anecdotally, I know people who intentionally avoid repaying their loans, and considering that I’ve been faithfully doing so, without forbearance or deferment, despite having an income of less than $25,000, those people can kindly go die in a fire.

3. In my time in college, I have noticed a tendency in left wing thought that education is its own reward, and that has A LOT to do with why some people get a degree- as opposed to seriously pursuing their own job. People just want the adventure of college, but not the practical value a degree brings- that’s more of a bonus. We’re lulled by wistful 40 somethings telling us college is, “The best days of your life.” so we see college as the end instead of a means to one. Considering how much debt people get in to go there, that has to be one of the most stupid ideas ever. I’m a hypocrite, of course; I bought into it, too. Even to this day, I would still say that even if I hadn’t gotten a decent job (finally 2 years after walking I’m on my way to having one), it would have been worth it. But I’m lucky… I stayed in-state, my mom busted her butt to pay for my1st two years, and I had significant FAFSA aid, so I walked with only about 25k in debt. I could have stayed longer- I changed majors 2 years in- but I decided it was wiser to walk and spend a working year or two maneuvering to get what I want in the real world rather than diddling away more time and money for a piece of paper that was more precisely what I wanted.

Dec 11, 2012 6:53pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Chaya_Choka wrote:
Japan have never officially apologized for the Pearl Harbor incident. Their school text book even state that Japanese actions at that time was the right thing to do (something like “Japanese was try to liberate Asia from evil westerner”). Deep down inside they’re still angry about Hiroshima Bombing and occasionally demand apologize from US.

Now, Abe want to abolished the Article 9th of Japanese Constitution to revive their “war-time glory military might” without recognizing their past bloody actions. Good luck to all of us.

Dec 11, 2012 11:25pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Kailim wrote:
Japan’s leaders never forget militarism. Ongoing paying homage to Yasukuni Shrine and distorting text books prove this.

Japan’s military might is currently one of the strongest in East Asia. They just want a legitimacy to fight outside its borders. They don’t need that if they choose to do so.

Whereas Germany had outlawed and banned Nazi.

Again US may have chosen a foreign policy it will deeply regrete.

Dec 12, 2012 1:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
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