Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has told lawmakers he intends to change the post-WWII Japanese Constitution that restricts Japan's use of military force. He will start by amending the clause that requires a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass constitutional changes, making it easier for future amendments.
Report: Japan PM says to change post-war constitution [Channel NewsAsia (AFP), 31 Jan 2013]
"It is unavoidable that we strengthen Japan's security arrangements to protect our national interest and ensure the safety of our people in the increasingly complex international situation," Mr. Abe said on Thursday.
During campaigning for Japan's general elections in December, Mr. Abe had already raised the possibility of changing the Japanese constitution regarding the military.
The Algerian hostage crisis in January has also increased public support for lifting restrictions on the ability of Japan's armed forces to operate overseas. 10 Japanese were among the 38 hostages killed.
Earlier this week, it was also revealed that Japan's defence budget is set to increase for the first time in 11 years, going up 0.8 percent to 4.68 trillion yen ($51.7 billion).
Constitutional amendments in Japan currently require a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament. Amendments must then be ratified by a national referendum, needing only a simple majority of voters. The constitution has never been formally altered since it was created in 1947, when Japan was occupied by the United States after World War II.
Mr. Abe's LDP and coalition partner New Komeito have more than a two-thirds majority in the lower house, but New Komeito is apparently wary about amendments.
In Japan, the upper house of parliament is less powerful, and is controlled by no single party. Elections for half the seats will be held later this year.
According to a poll released by the Asahi newspaper and the University of Tokyo last week, 50 percent of voters are in favour of revising the constitution, up from 41 percent in 2009.
Although Japan's armed forces are referred to as the Self-Defence Forces and technically not considered a military, Japan's defence spending is already ranked the sixth-highest in the world by most estimates.
Japan has also stretched the constitution's restrictions on the overseas deployment of armed forces. In 1992, Japan passed a law allowing it to send troops for UN peacekeeping operations, first articipating in the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). In 2001, an anti-terrorism law was passed allowing Japan to support the US-led global war on terrorism. Japan dispatched troops to Iraq for non-combat reconstruction efforts in 2004.
In a sense, amending Japan's constitution and changing the laws governing the JSDF's activities would only be acknowledging existing realities. However, following WWII, pacifism has become strongly ingrained among many in Japan, making the move contentious in Japan's domestic politics.
Aside from the military question, some are concerned about the precident in changing the constitution and lowering the bar for amendments.
Internationally, the move to strengthen Japan's military may also further strain relations between China and Japan, with ties already threatened by clashes over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.