The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 29, 2012)
Step up constitutional debate on 'national defense force'
「国防軍」 本質的な憲法論議に踏み込め(11月28日付・読売社説)

The Liberal Democratic Party has pledged in its manifesto for the upcoming House of Representatives election that it will revise the Constitution to enable Japan to possess a national defense military force. This has emerged as a key issue in the coming election campaign.

At this juncture, each political party should wade into more fundamental discussions on revising the Constitution.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was quick to take a swipe at the LDP pledge. "I don't understand the significance of revising the Constitution to position the Self-Defense Forces as a military force, by venturing to change the name to a defense military force," he said. Noda's comments ignited a debate on this issue.

LDP President Shinzo Abe countered Noda's criticism, saying the problem is that the SDF are regarded as a military force under international law, but they are not a military force according to the government's interpretation of the Constitution. Abe went as far as saying that if the SDF are not a military force, SDF personnel would not be handled as prisoners of war if they are captured.

We think Abe's point is quite reasonable.


Defining the SDF

The first paragraph of Article 9 of the Constitution stipulates the nation's renunciation of war. The second paragraph says, "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." Thus, it spells out that Japan will not possess military forces.

The LDP pledge mirrors a draft for revising the Constitution it announced in April when Sadakazu Tanigaki was the party's president. According to the draft, the first paragraph of Article 9 will be maintained, but the second paragraph will be deleted. The draft then stipulates the nation's maintenance of a "military force for defense," saying the preceding paragraph "does not prevent the country from invoking its right to self-defense."

It is only natural for the Constitution to clearly define the organization that will defend this country. We think it is time to end the ambiguity over the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

In 2004, The Yomiuri Shimbun proposed several revisions to the Constitution. One change we suggested was the maintenance of a "military force for self-defense."

When Noda's Democratic Party of Japan was an opposition party, he himself said in his book that the SDF are "a military force to the eyes of foreign nations," and they "have to be clearly defined [as a combat force] in the Constitution."

We cannot understand why Noda recently made a statement that flew in the face of his own argument.


Noda rejecting own theory

It is also problematic that the prime minister said such things as, "Does this mean Japan should transform the SDF into an organization that launches intercontinental ballistic missiles?" This is nothing but an electioneering tactic to affix a "hawk" label to the LDP under Abe and unnecessarily stir up voters' anxieties.

On the other hand, the previous DPJ manifesto's reference to planned discussions on revisions to the Constitution has vanished from its policy pledges for the coming election. This gives the strong impression that the party has retreated from its position three years ago, when it called for "free and unrestricted constitutional debate."

Given that the DPJ initiated the latest debate over the "defense military force," it must present its policy for defining the SDF and the right to self-defense in the Constitution.

We hope the election campaign will feature lively debate on whether the right to collective self-defense can be exercised, and how the SDF should conduct its international activities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2012)
(2012年11月28日01時23分  読売新聞)