This is being described largely as a move that would enable Japan to exercise a more aggressive military posture and that’s certainly a major goal, but Shinzo Abe, Japan’s new conservative PM, is targeting Article 96, which requires that constitutional amendments must have a sizable legislative majority and must win a referendum. If he can get enough legislative and referendum support to alter 96, then Japanese conservatives will be able to begin rewriting Japan’s constitution.
Going for Article 96 is a clever move, because it dodges the inevitable debate over remilitarization and becomes a technical debate. Enough Japanese may simply not want the responsibility of dealing with the military issue and be willing to vote to give the ruling coalition enough power to rewrite it. And once Abe has that, he isn’t likely to stop with opening up Japan’s military options.
The Japanese constitution is a mess, hastily written and rewritten by American military personnel, some of them amateurs. The section on women’s rights for example was reportedly written by a 23-year-old American civilian translator. That’s not exactly the sort of thing that inspires national pride.
On the military front, Abe’s ambitions aren’t too big. He’s starting off with a National Security Council, which will be crucial for warfighting capabilities but doesn’t seem all that scary. In Japan however setting up a military command infrastructure has all sorts of historical implications. During the 20th Century, a military command infrastructure became a runaway express train headed for war. That isn’t likely to happen this time around, but it certainly will go on being a major talking point, especially for the Japanese Left.
The problem is that the left has gotten its way and the country is a mess. Japan has a staggering debt and a stagnating economy. Its birth rate is on the verge of pushing the country toward major depopulation. Combine that with the collapse of American power under Obama, North Korea’s nuclear program and growing Chinese aggressiveness, and it’s no wonder that Abe is back.
Abe, unlike most politicians, acts as if he has clear answers for Japan’s problems. And with Article 96, Japan may be willing to give him the power to try solving them without asking too many questions about what exactly he intends to do.