Paradox of public opinion – SDF and Article 9

Judging from the total lack of response to my last two postings, I trust no one will be terribly troubled if I go back on my word to make my next post about the implications of RMB revaluation, and write instead on Japanese constitutional reform.

This morning’s Asahi print edition carried the results of the newspaper’s latest nationwide poll, which, in addition to the normal questions about support of political parties, contained a large number of questions about possible constitutional revision. (I had originally intended to translate the entire results and post them, but there are too many questions and too little time.)

One thing the poll data reveals is an interesting paradox in public opinion with regard to the relationship between the SDF and Article 9. Although close three quarters of respondents indicated that the Constitution should be revised to either recognize the SDF’s existence (58%) or make it into a regular army (12%), when asked directly, a majority opposed revision to Article 9 (51%), with only slightly over a third favoring revision (36%).

At the risk of oversimplifying things, it appears that although the Japanese like the SDF, and are increasingly in favor of revising their constitution, they remain wary of touching Article 9, which arguably prohibits the SDF’s existence. The Asahi argues that this paradox is rooted in the Japanese public’s acceptance of both Article 9 and the SDF.

With regard to the SDF, only 7% of respondents said its existence was unconstitutional and should therefore be abolished in the future. Additionally, over half of the respondents said Japan should recognize the SDF’s ability to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, while one-third said they would do the same for SDF support for reconstruction in a country with an ongoing war.

Concerning Article 9 on the other hand, 32% of all respondents said that out of the entire contents of the constitution, they were most concerned with Article 9, and just over three-quarters said they believed that Article 9 had played a role in [creating and maintaining?] peace and stability in Japan.

This belief was even stronger (84%) among the 51% who opposed revision of Article 9. And even among those 58% of total respondents who believed that the constitution should recognize the SDF and that Article 9 had played a role in Japan’s peace and stability, nearly half of this group opposed revision of Article 9.

That’s a lot of numbers to think about, and of course there are the usual caveats about the reliability of poll data, but there are a few other things worth considering here.

First, one wonders if public support would remain high for UNPKOs and especially for reconstruction assistance in a war-torn country if a few Japanese peacekeepers met with the same fate as Belgian UN peacekeepers in Kigali in 1994.

One might also wonder if Japanese politicians would be willing to risk political capital to put SDF forces in harm’s way. My guess is that given the lack of a past failure (i.e. no dead Japanese soldiers), and given that the ruling coalition was able to get away with the mission to Iraq, whatever public or opposition party resistance might exist would easily be overcome the first time around.

9 thoughts on “Paradox of public opinion – SDF and Article 9”

  1. I don’t think you should necessarily interpret lack of comments as a total lack of interest. It’s the sort of topic I’m interested to hear about, but I don’t know nearly enough about to formulate an intelligent response.

  2. Ditto on MF’s comment. I think as more people sit up and take notice
    of your posts we’ll start attracting a more econ-minded readership.

    As for the poll, it makes a lot of sense. A constitutional revision is
    unlikely to succeed if Article 9 itself is messed with. I’m not sure
    on the legality of this, but I think that if you do the right
    intellectual somersaults it would be possible to justify the SDF’s
    existence in a *different* part of the Constitution.

    Japan’s pacifist attitude is an asset. In the very special
    circumstances following WW2 Japan has developed a kinder, gentler
    society that is conflict-averse, safe and above all free. Of course, broad generalizations such as this don’t hold up by themselves under scrutiny, but I hope you can at least see my point that pacifism as a national tenet has been the framework under which Japanese society operated for the last 60 years.

    It is, however, an evolving asset. The Japanese people are seeing with their own eyes the obvious threat that North Korea poses. The idea of a growing China quickly catching up and to and possibly overtaking Japan’s stagnant economy (and military to boot) has caught on at least among those interested in foreign affairs and scaremongering tabloids. And they know that the original raison d’etre of the US military in Japan (the Cold War) is gone and there is no guarantee that they will remain forever.

    So, we’re likely to see Japan accept the idea of a legal and active SDF in one way or another. And regardless of whether Japan makes it into the UNSC, the pressure will be on for Japan to get more involved internationally. With a legalized military and a government that wants to use it, the debates about SDF activity should start resembling the debate that goes on over US military action: an initially wary public that eventually goes along because they feel they have to. However, barring some major catastrophe, I don’t see SDF activities changing substantively (ie: they’ll keep up their current support role) in the near future.

  3. On Adamu’s comment about reforming a different part of the constitution, remember that there are two parts to Article 9:

    1) … [T]he Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

    2) 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.

    More to the point than what I wrote in my post, would be to say that the Japanese love part one, but pay less mind to part two.

    While amending a different part may be one possible way out of the paradox, it would have to be an impressive somersault (not to say that Japan isn’t capable of that kind of cranial acrobatics) indeed to get around that second clause.

  4. You’re absolutely right, Saru. I was vaguely aware of the second clause when I wrote that comment, which is why I recommended the aforementioned somersaults.

    Japan should amend their Constitution so that all second paragraphs of Articles in the Constitution may be modified by the Prime Minister. This would give the Japanese government much more flexibility. Amazingly, there is only one other second paragraph in the entire Japanese constitution as defined under my plan.

    From the preamble:

    We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.

    It’s this kind of claptrap that has made Japan the wimpiest nation on Earth. Change this to, “We have, under the most extreme duress that can only come from total defeat by an idealistic Western power, accepted this flimsy, platitude-filled document as our basic law. We are too defeated to do anything about it but hope that the other nations of the world will not use this as an opportunity to kick us while we’re down. The Allied Powers willing, we will once again build a prosperous nation, and while tyranny, slavery, oppression, and intolerance sound like bad things, our conscience tells us that they are irreversible phenomena of the human condition and the only moral solution is to turn a blind eye. Rather than seek the end of fear AND want, we prefer to concentrate on eliminating material want while more or less ignoring the psychological health of our citizens.” It’s just a draft, mind you.

  5. Translating contracts is what I do for a living, my man. It just takes a keen mind and lots of short bathroom breaks.

    PS: I’m writing this from my SWANKY NEW LAPTOP BOO YA

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  7. Thanks to Saru, I now get to know this website. As a JD candidate at the Keio University Law School, I will post a few comments over amending the Article 9. In fact, there is no necessity to amend the article 9 although a lot of politicians from the LDP insist that it is neccessary for Japan to be a standard modernized nation.

    When it comes to a case that are related to the Article 9, the Supreme Court of Japan usually adopts “the Theory of Sovereign Act”, which says that the judicial branch will not decide any case that is related to a sovereign act because it is a highly political matter. The Supreme Court did not say that I could not decide, but they said they would not decide “unless it is unconstitutional in an extremely obvious way on the first glance.” In short, they will never declare the Self Defence Force is unconstitutinal.

    If you learn about the Sepration of Power and the power of judical review, you know that the Japanese government is not bound by the Article 9 at all. Sending tropps to Iraq is not a violation of constitution because the Supreme Court of Japan will never say so. Of Course, some people might say that sending troops to other nations is unconstitutional in an extremely obvious way on the first glance, but for Justices in the Supreme Court, it is not.

    So, having the current Artilce 9 actually gives too much flexible authority to the executive branch. Unless the Japanese government declares an war against other states for the purpose of invasion, the judicial branch will stay aside. I rather feel fear that changing the article 9 will give more powerful authority to the executive branch with our weak judical power.

    Finally, I also would like to introduce a very interesting insight from my classmate at the law school, he said that Japanese people including mass media talked about “changing” the constitution, but there was no one who argued “adding” the constitution. In the United States or other western states, you will keep the original context of the article and just “add” an amendament. However, the Japanese people do not have a nortion to add an amendament. This may be resulted from Japanese people’s faceless attitude toward the Consitution.

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