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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Japanese Prime Minister to Reinterpret Constitution to Avoid Amendment Process

Steven Schwinn at Constitutional Law Prof. Blog has an interesting post on how Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, hopes to change Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Schwinn writes:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to change Japan's pacifist constitution--not by amending it, but by reinterpreting it. 
Abe is expected to announce a plan to amend several laws that would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to engage in collective self-defense, that is, military defense of allied countries even when Japan is not directly threatened. This will mark a shift in the role of Japan's military overseas, which is currently limited to non-combat peacekeeping duties under Article 9 of the Constitution.
Article 9 renounces war as a right of the sovereign and bars Japan from maintaining armed forces and using military force to further its objectives. The Christian Science Monitor has more on this story, writing:

Abe's target is Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution – drawn up by US occupation forces after World War II – which renounces Japan’s right to wage war as a means of settling international disputes. It says that "land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” 
Successive administrations have interpreted the clause to facilitate the build-up of a well-equipped military, yet one with a strictly defensive posture. 
. . . 
“Abe is basically looking for the easiest way to change the Constitution,” says Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
I am no expert in Japanese constitutional law, but the Christian Science Monitor goes on to quote Jiro Yamaguchi, a political scientist, who notes that there are "no institutional barriers to the cabinet changing its interpretation of the Constitution," so it seems that Abe's push for interpretation may end up succeeding absent any intervention from Parliament. Looking to the text of Article 9, it looks like this would not be the first reinterpretation of this part of the constitution, which, if read literally, would prohibit an army, navy, and air force.

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