University of California, Los Angeles

Re-militarizing Japan. Abe’s abuse of overwhelming power by Ippei Kato @ University of California, Los Angeles

Japan, one of the most peaceful and safest country that has never experienced any configuration after WWⅡ, is facing undemocratic crisis that can change its long-standing neutral position and find its way to garrison state. Japan is one of the rare countries that have no officially defined national army and this is clearly stated in its constitution, Article 9. However, it possesses Self-Defense-Force (SDF), which apparently functions as armed forces and there has been a lot of vigorous debates going on about legitimacy of its existence. Japanese Constitution, Article 9 explicitly declares that Japan renounces war and use of force by abdicating any form of war potential and never admitting right of belligerency. Then, what is SDF? why do they exist? Japanese government has been explaining this contradiction by interpreting constitution differently to guarantee the legitimacy of its existence. Now the situation is about to change. Current (and most of the post-WWⅡ, period) ruling party, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leaded by Shinzo Abe tries to amend the constitution and modify Article 9 for the first time in Japanese history. For now, there are two major plans for this; 1) maintain clause 1 and 2 of Article 9 and add the term “SDF”. 2) delete clause 2 of Article 9 and clearly define purpose and status of SDF.

It may be understandable that Japanese government tries to re-militarize the country considering the current global context. The security environment surrounding Japan has been more and more severe and with many issues such as North Korean provocation by conducting missile experiments or territorial dispute between neighboring countries like China and South Korea unresolved.
This movement began in 2014, when a set of bills about national security was passed without a consensus between ruling and opposition parties in the Diet. This bills already involve contentious contradiction to Article 9 and at this time, there was a huge voice from the population that is against this bill and huge demonstration going on in front of the diet, but LDP and coalition parties railroaded the bill. These bills admit the right of collective deference, which means SDF could be dispatched overseas to fight and many people are afraid that this would be the first step to justify future wars. Although Abe insisted that majority of the population agree on the enactment of the law, many scholars argue that the survey of public opinion Abe refers to is quite biased and in effect, surveys conducted by different media groups tell different story and majority of the population disagree with Abe’s decision. How and why Abe regime can adopt such contentious policies?
In order to analyze what enables Abe and LDP adopt such unpopular and risky measures that apparently go against Japanese long-standing history, which may lead to reduction of the support from the people, we need to pay attention to its overwhelming majority power and coalition party, Komei-to. While Japan advocates multiparty democracy after WWⅡ , actual political situation has been far from that and LDP has been holding overwhelming power. At the national election in October, 2017, LDP and Komei-to coalition party got total number of 313 seats out of 465 (284,29 respectively)in the Lower House. This exceed the number of seats necessary for constitutional amendment.
Also, we might want to pay attention to Komei-to. Komei-to is not a very big party but it collects certain amount of ballets at every election. The reason for its stable popularity is the fact that its supports are entirely based on one of the biggest religious groups in Japan, Soka-Gakkai. According to its website, Soka-Gakkai has about 8 milion household members in Japan. Not only almost all of the members vote for Komei-to, but also they ask their friends to vote for Komei-to (so-called “Friend ballots”). They are very active during the election period because they think it is one way to contribute to the prosperity of Soka-Gakkai. Although separation of religion and politics are clearly declared in the constitution and Komei -to are often criticized for its position that is closely related to the particular religion, the government (basically ruled by LDP ) have admitted and justified its participation in politics. From this fact, it can be said that LDP has been protecting Komei-to from accusation so that it can maintain coalition with Komei-to and certainly stay in power.
Some scholars and citizens even compare Abe regime to infamous fascist, Hitler and argue that Abe regime is trying to destroy decent democracy and converge power. Abe and LDP follow democratic steps to adopt new laws and amend the constitution, but they are often condemned that they abuse its majority power and move toward authoritarian direction.
Considering the fact that Japan has been depending on the US army for national security to a great extent, but military capability of US has been decreasing mainly due to economic stagnation, movement towards re-militarizing is not necessary a presage of democratic backsliding, it seems that Abe abuses its super majority power to lull several scandals and oppress opposition parties and medias. We have to keep our eyes on Abe’s next move.

Photo by Fast Fact-CNN

1 Comment


    March 15, 2018 at 12:09 am

    It is an interesting point that you made on why Japan would want to re-militarize and why they would support an unlikely leader like Abe. He is a part of a coalition party that represents the majority of Japan’s religion and although Japan’s constitution clearly states that religion and state cannot interfere with one another, it is still a tactical way in which to receive support. Although this is a beneficial way for Abe to gain the citizens of Japan’s support, I enjoyed that you mentioned this because from that it is easy to identify why people would begin to support him and easily dismiss wrong-doings (like becoming an authoritarian leader instead of a democratic one) that he may inflict because they have that one characteristic of religion in common.

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