Japan questions its constitutional commitment to peace


December 19, 2006 10:56 | by Steve McGiffen

An examination of disturbing developments among Japan's political rulers

"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war..." Words which "no longer fit the times"?

Before its defeat in World War II, Japan had reached a position in which it was one of the most militarily powerful nations in the world. This was a considerable achievement, given the fact that it remained, until quite late in the 19th century, a technologically backward, isolated country whose rulers resisted any attempt at economic development. A highly reactionary elite feared, quite rightly, that industrialisation would create new social forces that would undermine its power.

Then, in 1869, in an event known as the Meiji Restoration, a group of modernisers defeated the established power and began the process which would see Japan come to rival the great powers of Europe and north America in industrial and military might. Indeed, Japan may have been the only nation whose impulse to industrialisation came consciously - and almost exclusively - from a desire to create powerful armed forces. The result was that the Japanese, while they became one of a handful of non-white peoples to escape colonisation by imperialist powers, themselves developed their country into an aggressively imperialist force.

Defeat in World War II destroyed Japan as a military power and discredited those who had made militarisation for so long the country's priority. It did not, however, prevent its emergence as a major economic power.

It is a paradox that two of the three globally dominant nations of the post-war period were prevented, following their defeat, from developing the kind of armed might which Marxist theorists, including Lenin, had seen as an inevitable corollary of imperialism. In common with West Germany, Japan was encouraged to develop a powerful industrial economy at the same time as it was forbidden to transform its growing economic muscle into military might. Instead of an army, it was allowed to maintain only a "self-defence force."

At the time, it suited Washington's global policy to create these buffers against the influence of its cold war "enemies." Times change and, with them, the perceived needs of the US ruling class. It has been obvious for some time that barriers to German rearmament are weakening, though the militarisation of the European Union may make any overt change to Germany's pacifistic constitution unnecessary.

Japan has no such alternative. The result is that the constitution, having been flouted in the sending of troops to participate in a faraway war, is now under threat.

The specific target is Article 9, which has two clauses, as follows:

1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the 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. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised.

According to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, these inspiring words "no longer fit the times."

In October, the Japanese House of Representatives special committee for research on the constitution began discussion on bills separately submitted by the government and the spineless opposition Democratic Party to establish the procedure for a national referendum on constitutional revision. The bills would make constitutional revision easier to accomplish, perhaps with as few as 30 per cent of the electorate voting in favour.

Public money will be disproportionately available to supporters of revision, because the rules state that it will be distributed according to the number of members that parties have in the parliament. The only party of any size which opposes revision is the Communist Party. To see how undemocratic such a rule can be, you only have to look at what happened last year in France and the Netherlands, where, despite the support of almost every political party, the electorate voted to reject the proposed European constitution.

These steps take place in a worrying climate in which militarism, for so long discredited, is becoming increasingly respectable. Foreign Minister Taro Aso has repeatedly gone so far as to propose that the country, which has more cause than any other to know what the consequences of this can be, should debate developing atomic weapons.

Self-defence force troops have participated in UN peacekeeping operations in the Indian Ocean and Iraq, with the Japanese government claiming that it had imposed rules of engagement which ensured compliance with the constitution.

Opposing the remilitarisation of Japan is not about reviving ideas of the Japanese people as a dangerously warlike race. Just as the real meaning of the EU's desire for its own army is that it reflects a newly aggressive phase of imperialism, attempts to untie the hands of Japanese armed forces must be seen in the context of an increasingly dangerous world and one in which "stability" is more and more openly defined as "control by the United States and its allies."

Steve McGiffen is editor of Spectrezine. To keep up with developments in Japan, Spectrezine recommends Japan Press Weekly, an English-language website linked to the Japanese Communist Party's mass-circulation daily Akahata. This article was first published in the Morning Star

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