by Jon Day
TOKYO, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advanced his signature goal of formally militarizing the nation based on the findings of a hand-picked panel of constitutional and security experts who have green lit Abe's controversial security directive.
Knowing that the war-renouncing Article 9 section of Japan's Constitution cannot be revised by a simple majority vote in the Diet, but would need to gain the support of two-thirds or more of all members of each chamber of Japan's bicameral system of parliament, and, thereafter, be approved by a skeptical public in special national referendum, Abe has picked the path of least resistance and in doing so taken Japan's Constitution out of the hands of the people it serves to protect.
Japan's prime minister is now circumnavigating trying to amend the Constitution, which has remained unchanged since its adoption in 1947, and enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self- defense through a Cabinet decision to change the government's interpretation of the Constitution.
After receiving a report Thursday from his private Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, Abe told a press conference his Cabinet will move towards authorizing the necessary legal measures to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, provided the ruling coalition agrees to change the government's long-held, traditional interpretation of the nation's pacifist Constitution.
Abe said that the ruling coalition would debate specific issues and scenarios and ensure new legislative paradigms were put in place for the nation to defend "the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people."
The prime minister insisted the move was not a detraction from the pacifist Constitution and would in no way mean that Japan was taking steps towards being able to wage war again, but observers have said that refuting the government's own traditional interpretation of its Constitution, that has always been that Japan is banned by the Constitution from exercising the right to collective self-defense, renders the Constitution meaningless and open to future "reinterpretation" whenever the Cabinet, not the Diet or the public, deems necessary.
But Abe's argument is that, according to his hand-picked advisers, Japan is now in an "increasingly tense security environment" and as such, under the current interpretation of the constitution, the nation "cannot fully defend itself."
The report submitted by his advisers Thursday stated, "We have reached a situation in which we cannot sufficiently maintain our country's peace and security or realize peace and prosperity of the region and international society under the current interpretation of the constitution."
"What we're seeing here is the beginnings of a monumental change in Japan's security policy, with the ultimate decision making power in the hands of only a few. If the prime minister attempted to formally have the Constitution revised, it would likely be shot down in parliament or by a public referendum, as more than 60 percent oppose changing the Constitution," political analyst Teruhisa Muramatsu told Xinhua.
"Abe and his administration have too much autonomy, as has been consistently shown in Abe's right-wing, nationalistic policy drives, and this is the icing on the cake for him, to remilitarize Japan. At this juncture of course Abe is trumpeting the limits that will be imposed on Japan using its right to collective self- defense, but this is just the beginning and, under the current administration, we can expect security policy here to become more expansive and more aggressive in the future," he said.
Muramatsu went on to clarify his remarks by saying that Abe is, for all intents and purposes, forcing through an effective Constitutional change towards achieving a fully-fledged military that can be deployed at home and abroad in collective self-defense operations, by boycotting the formal Constitutional procedure and keeping the decision making process in the hands of his ruling bloc.
Other observers have concurred, stating that the opposition camp doesn't have enough clout to rein in Abe and his ruling camp and even dissenters within his own Cabinet over the issue have been coerced into falling in line as Abe has them browbeaten by the possibility of an upcoming Cabinet and possible party leadership reshuffle.
The LDP's junior New Komeito coalition party ally has voiced concern against the Constitutional reinterpretation and according to Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of Japanese politics at Nippon University in Tokyo, the move could cause a split in the coalition, which would present a headache for Abe as without New Komeito Abe would lose his majority in the upper house of parliament.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of New Komeito, has stated that the Constitution should be a discussion for the Diet, not the Cabinet, and opposition parties must also be involved in "forging as broad a consensus as possible on anything related to the Constitution."
Yamaguchi also said that this was the very tenet that the coalition agreement with the LDP was founded on, suggesting that Abe's current moves are running contrary to this, and he recently reiterated his cautious stance against constitutional reinterpretation, saying more important issues should be discussed in the current Diet session -- expressing the view that collective self-defense is not an issue to be entrusted to the Cabinet's sole discretion.
New Komeito party officials have also said they want to see more focus on inter-party deliberations on so-called "gray areas" pertaining to collective self-defense and how Japanese forces may or may not be deployed legally, and the coalition ally is willing to discuss the parameters of legal regulations permitting SDF deployment in gray zone situations, because it would not require a reinterpretation of the Constitution.
But despite New Komeito's circumspect stance, Iwai believes the tiny coalition ally is just trying to buy more time for the overall issue to be discussed and debated, but the final conclusion would ultimately represent, "a turning point in the country's politics."
"It will take time to persuade Komeito, but I think the cabinet will endorse the reinterpretation by the end of this year for sure, " Iwai said.
Abe has established the National Security Council (NSC), however the minutes of its meetings have not been made public, and the newly enacted state secrets protection law will effectively allow the government to make policy decisions to mobilize Japanese troops without the public knowing.
Hence, under such covert circumstances, the decisions legitimizing military action by Japan's forces would potentially be beyond the scope and scrutiny of both the Diet and the public -- the latter of which is in stark contrast to Abe's initial pledge to "put the Constitution back in the hands of the people."
Japan's hawkish leader is not only effectively doing the opposite and taking the Constitution out of the hands of the people, in doing so, and stealthily expanding the role of Japan's forces, he is also potentially putting millions of peace-loving lives at risk.