Posts Tagged ‘Article 9’

Philistines

July 28, 2014

Three cheers for America’s Japan pundits! In the wake of a reinterpretation of Japan’s Constitution to permit the exercise of collective self-defense, our resident experts in think tanks and academia demonstrated independence of mind with a chorus of approval. No groupthink here! The fact that their positions aligned with that of the United States government, which has for decades pressed Japan to rip up Article 9, is completely coincidental. Nor, in the case of those with previous service in the State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council, was their scholarly objectivity the least bit compromised. Who would draw parallels with the way scholars in the Soviet Union parroted the Party line? Only a party pooper.

If the Japan wonks had one message above all, it was that this absolutely critical change was no big deal. This “historic shift,” this “landmark moment,” declare Richard Fontaine and Jeffrey W. Hornung, “is unlikely to change very much in practice, at least in the near term.” For Jennifer Lind, “The most recent change in Japanese defense policy is thus both remarkable and routine.” You see, Article 9 wasn’t eviscerated all at once. As Lind (ex-DOD) puts it, “Japan’s gradual relaxation of defense constraints should in no way suggest that the country is rearming with intent to once again commit aggression in East Asia.” Outside the scope of her study, apparently, is the effect of removing constraints expressly designed to prevent such aggression on the intentions of future administrations.

World-class scholars that they are, these thinkers provide irrefutable support for their thesis that the change isn’t so big: Michael Green and (again) Hornung note the “very restrictive” conditions that must be met in order for Japan to exercise collective self-defense: “1) The situation should pose a clear threat to the Japanese state or could fundamentally threaten the Japanese people’s constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; 2) There is no other way to repel the attack and protect Japan and its people; and 3) The use of force is limited to the minimum necessary.” After all, when a state claims such conditions hold, that means they do. President Bush warned of the imminent threat from Iraq, which is why he is now universally venerated as America’s greatest president for saving us from Saddam Hussein’s WMDs. As to the third condition, look no further than Gaza, where the number of lifeless children mounts by the day. But since Israel says it’s employing minimum necessary force, war crimes charges are entirely groundless. See how it works?

But the wonks don’t stop there. After an exhaustive search, Green and Hornung unearthed crucial evidence that there’s nothing to worry about: “Abe himself has explicitly said that the change will not lead to Japan’s involvement in foreign wars.” Well, that settles that – the prime minister said so! Fontaine (formerly of State and NSC) and Hornung use subtle reasoning to deduce that “the Constitution’s Article 9 … has not changed.” You see, its text hasn’t changed, only what the government takes those words to mean – a matter, obviously, of no consequence. We can but gasp in awe at such penetrating analysis.

Some benighted souls, however, aren’t as thrilled with the teensy-weensy reinterpretation. Fontaine and Hornung highlight criticism from other Asian nations, but focusing on criticism from China is not, repeat not, a straw man! Most wonks, though, paid at least some attention to opposition within Japan itself. Lind strides in with historical context: since the Second World War, the Japanese, she says, “have been skittish of rearmament and involvement in overseas military operations.” Webster’s defines “skittish” as “easily frightened, jumpy” – you know, like a horse. Imagine that – a little thing like millions of dead and cities in ruins, and the easily frightened Japanese still get jumpy as Abe coaxes them back into the starting gate.

Well, stop fretting, fraidy-cats: Green and Hornung are telling you that Article 9 has not been “completely and blatantly” gutted. Coming from as valiant a champion of pacifism as former Bush NSC staffer Michael Green, who can fail to be reassured?

One source of opposition goes entirely unmentioned by these experts: Japanese constitutional scholars, most of whom find even the Self-Defense Forces unconstitutional, to say nothing of relaxed conditions for their deployment. Do you find this omission odd, dear reader? Then for once in your life, think like a Japan wonk! People who worry about quaint legal niceties are obviously Marxists or something. You’re not a Commie, are you, dear reader?

James Schoff (ex-DOD) predicts that the decision “will produce a substantive (yet incremental) policy change that the Japanese and other nations will embrace over time.” (italics mine) You see, in Schoff’s groundbreaking theory of democracy, governments properly ignore public opinion while making “an historic reinterpretation of the nation’s constitution,” confident that the pesky electorate will come around later. Sheila Smith expands on this view, opining that “Japan’s prime minister needs to persuade the Japanese public that he is on the right path.” The public too has an important role to play: “The Japanese people must support this evolving role for their military,” writes Smith.

Green and Hornung’s airtight proof of the democratic legitimacy of Abe’s approach to authorizing the change deserves special recognition. “During this process,” they say, “the proceedings were reported upon daily by Japan’s media, enabling voters to be fully aware of the discussions.” Plus, Abe held a press conference! Yes, we all remember Tom Paine’s stirring exhortation that between elections, people just need to shut up and listen. As the two savants also observe, “Japan today is a deeply rooted democratic country with strong civilian control over a well-trained military and a seven-decade record of peaceful activity.” If detecting a causal link between Article 9 and that record is beyond the capacity of such august authorities, we may be certain that none exists.

In the halls of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the sound of popping champagne corks may have subsided, but never fear, we won’t lack for more sublime wisdom from these sages. They may soon be explaining why building a new U.S. base in Okinawa – and using strong-arm tactics to break up local protests – is just Abe’s little way of “reducing the burden” on that prefecture. Enlisting Japan in U.S. global strategy is an “incremental” process, so the work of an American Japan wonk is never done.


On a serious note, I don’t remember when I first read about Article 9, but it made an enormous impression on me. Here was a country that had experienced the very worst that war can offer (and yes, inflicted it on others as well). And with help from the U.S. Occupation, that country had learned from its experiences and renounced war itself. The people of Japan blamed their sufferings not primarily on the enemy, but on those who led them into tragedy. And so they placed real institutional constraints on what leaders could do in the future. Affirmations of devotion to peace are often hollow, but here was a solid and courageous commitment.

If there was any redemption from the horrors of World War II, it was Article 9, pointing to the possibility of ending reliance on military force. A world that felt those horrors keenly and was dedicated to preventing a repeat of them would have carefully nurtured that hope.

So behind the bile above is sorrow at the destruction of something beautiful. A kind of beauty beyond the comprehension of philistines with value systems that begin and end with “U.S. interests,” in advance of which they are always eager to provide wretched rationalizations.

Making War on Japan’s Peace Constitution

May 15, 2014

The New York Times editorial board has come out against Prime Minister Abe’s push to authorize collective self-defense. This is welcome, but the editorial omits the aspect of the story most relevant to American readers – that their government is cheering Abe from the sidelines. This fits a pattern of the Times criticizing Abe without mentioning U.S. support. I wrote about one case here; another is a previous editorial on collective self-defense. Oddly, the Times manages to mention the U.S. role in framing Japan’s Constitution almost 70 years ago – just not it’s role in undermining it now. As a citizen of what purports to be a democracy, it is that role that matters to me, for I share in the responsibility for U.S. foreign policy, and – if only through the ballot box and campaign contributions – I exert an influence on it. The same cannot be said of Japanese policy.

Collective self-defense (or CSD) refers to aiding an ally under attack, and sometimes more broadly to joint military operations with an ally. At present, of course, Japan has just one ally – the United States. The problem for backers of Japan’s exercise of CSD is that it conflicts with Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution, which states:

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.

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.

Nationalists like Abe have long resented the Constitution as having supposedly been imposed on occupied Japan by the U.S. In fact, while it’s fair to say the Constitution was imposed on the conservative elite, the war-weary public embraced it. Somehow the same nationalists who turn up their noses at this “foreign” Constitution are also eager to serve as a strategic partner of the U.S. But for Abe, CSD is merely a steppingstone to undoing virtually all constitutional restraints on Japan’s military.

It is an unfortunate peculiarity of the Japanese system that courts tend to leave constitutional interpretation to the government. Even so, longstanding government interpretations have held that CSD is unconstitutional. Abe, therefore, has two paths open to him: revision (i.e. constitutional amendment) or reinterpretation. Revision would require, first, passage by two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Diet, and then majority support in a national referendum. Due to this formidable requirement, the Constitution has never been revised. Given the public’s widespread reluctance to further weaken Article 9, it could be even more challenging in the case of CSD. Hence, Abe seeks to achieve his goal via reinterpretation. The constantly shifting arguments his administration has amassed for this are pure sophistry; Bryce Wakefield has done the definitive takedown.

Poll results depend on the wording of questions, so pinning down public opinion on CSD is not easy. A poll by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper found 71% favored authorizing CSD, the great bulk of them insisting it be exercised only “with minimum force necessary.” The liberal Asahi, however, found the public opposed to lifting the ban on CSD exercise by a greater than two-to-one margin. In between these extremes is an NHK poll showing the public opposed to the exercise of CSD by 41% to 34%. The picture seems clearer regarding reinterpretation, with another Asahi poll finding the public by a four-to-one margin to consider reinterpretation unnecessary, at least in the short term.

The U.S. support has come from various sources, including Defense Secretary Hagel and his Chief of Staff, former officials Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, Vice President Biden, and at a press conference in Tokyo last month, President Obama. Some pundits are quick to point out that in official statements the U.S. refrains from endorsing reinterpretation, couching its support in the kind of language used in its Joint Statement with Japan: “The United States welcomes and supports Japan’s consideration of the matter of exercising the right of collective self-defense.” The distinction between “supporting X” and “supporting consideration of X” would be meaningful if the U.S. ever did the latter while opposing X. When then-Prime Minister Hatoyama sought to reconsider construction of a new Marine base in Okinawa to replace an old one, he encountered not support but a brick wall from the Obama administration and ended up resigning. As that case shows, Japanese politicians resist U.S. dictates at their peril; American backing can be equally consequential.

At any rate, as in Obama’s press conference, officials sometimes slip up and say what they mean: “the alliance is so important and collective self-defense is so important.” A more accurate characterization of the U.S. position is that it doesn’t care how CSD is authorized, as long as it’s done quickly. Should Abe succeed in reinterpreting Article 9, there is no doubt that the U.S. will welcome it, popular will and constitutionalism be damned.

I must confess to some ambivalence about Article 9. On the one hand, its renunciation of war is a profound example to the world. On the other, government interpretations have subjected it for decades to death by a thousand cuts, to the point that little remains beyond a vague commitment to a defensive orientation. That means little when even outright aggressors claim to be acting defensively, and littler still coming from politicians who consider themselves entitled to redefine words and phrases at will.

The Constitution’s boldest guardians are members of the generation that remembers the horrors visited upon Japan, while many younger people are legitimately concerned about China’s military expansionism. Some are even seduced by romantic depictions of “the Greater East Asian War.”

Is an Article 9 so compromised worth saving? Or is the greater threat to constitutionalism the self-deception in maintaining an Article 9 the original meaning to which dwindling numbers of Japanese are fully committed? After all, despite forswearing “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential,” Japan has one of the highest military budgets in the world. While the Constitution’s preamble affirms “we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world,” it was the U.S. that took on the bulk of Japan’s defense; if not for that, support for Article 9 would collapse.

Some might argue that with government interpretations already suffused with linguistic contortions and illogic, Abe is only continuing the practice. But the existence of precedents for contemptible behavior is no argument for allowing it to continue. At least Article 9 still serves as a brake on the designs of jingoists like Abe – that’s why he’s bent on neutering it. But should the prohibition on CSD fall, it is hard to see Article 9 surviving. Most Japanese constitutional scholars interpret Article 9 strictly, and one, reacting to a report just released by Abe’s hand-picked panel, said it “would remove all restrictions by Article 9 of the Constitution on the actions of the government. That would not be simply changing the constitutional interpretation, but a destruction of the Constitution.”

“Japanese people who conserve Article 9” is in contention for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It would be a bitter irony if the prime minister were to accept an award for Article 9 after having eviscerated it. All that is certain is that if a change is to be made, it must be through the expression of the people’s will, and not government fiat.

Only the Japanese people can save their constitution. What they do not need is the U.S. government putting wind in Abe’s sails.

 

This article has been slightly revised since its original posting.