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Japan’s Constitutional Pacifism: Ecopolitical Consequences of Revising Article 9

Enduring Pacifism

“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 recognized.”

  • The Constitution of Japan, Article 9

Article 9 was legislated in 1946 as part of the Japanese Constitution immediately following the end of the Second World War. Prior to the implementation, during the war time, Japan committed disparate yet inhumane war crimes against civilians living in their target countries. While setting other states in pandemonium, it simultaneously placed its own people into turmoil. Therefore, reasonably, Article 9 was and is a pledge not just to the neighboring states but also to its fellow citizens.

Under Article 9, Japan has been abandoning the use of offensive weapons and limiting its military power for self-defense. However, with the recent election of the new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, alerted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s intention of armed unification with Taiwan, the reinterpretation of Article 9 has been once again put on the political agenda by the government. Nevertheless, Japan ought not to revise Article 9 over the concerns of spiking the neighboring countries, handicapping Japanese economic growth and governmental expenditure, and condemning its role as a peaceful actor in diplomacy.

Image: Asia Times

Rising Military Friction

One of the potential repercussions of amending Article 9 is the military backlash from the surrounding states, such as South Korea, to modify its postures and develop nukes. Under the status quo, South Korea has been taking steps to reinforce its lineup of weapons. However, despite facing continuous pressure from rivals and the majority of the population favoring nuclear development, no indicators reflect the reinforcement will lead to an impending nuclear development by South Korea unless they experience additional military risks. If Article 9 is reinterpreted and remilitarized, it will undermine Japan’s relationship with its neighbors as restrictions and measures on arms control would be abolished; any weakening of pacifism should presumably agitate or even infuriate South Korea, where many people still retain the tragic memories of the unilateral war atrocities.

Furthermore, the security threat that South Korea is concerning about arises from Japan’s superior capability in nuclear latency – the ability to build nuclear weapons quicker after seeing the escalation of military conflict, whereby enables Japan with greater discourse power. A weaker nuclear latency and a resolute public opinion under Japan’s revision of Article 9 would incentivize South Korea’s preemptive possession of nuclear weapons. Disturbingly, South Korean perception of Japanese security threats is significantly correlated with supporting nuclear proliferation and is amplified by recent ecopolitical conflicts between the two countries.

South Korean development of nuclear arsenal and proliferation would exacerbate the relationship with its relative, namely, North Korea. Already, North Korea has repeatedly been engaging in cross-border provocations and conducting missile tests due to the “exercises for a nuclear war” by the joint US – South Korean military. The risk of South Korean proliferation could stimulate North Korea to expand its arsenal and attitudinize nuclear weapons for primary use in an escalating military crisis. A nuclear-embodied South Korea could also respond with more aggression to the former’s provocations with proactive deterrence. The amendment of Article 9 would only soar the Korean Peninsula’s tension by expediting South Korean obsession with nuclear weapons and surging regional conflicts into international disputes due to political opposition.

Economic Ramification

Reinterpretation of Article 9 would additionally detriment the Japanese economy by handicapping its governmental expenditure. The precious legacy of Article 9 is that, not exhaustively, it enabled Japan to prioritize economic activities that had contributed to the rebuild and growth of a fragile postwar nation with the US guaranteeing its security. Japan was able to confine its defense budget to only 1% of the GDP while meeting the criteria for cooperative military goals, such as confronting the contemporary Soviet threat because of the economy booming under the constitution. However, revising Article 9 will remove Japan’s 1% military spending cap. With the current legislative party of the Japanese government, LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), being desperate to acquire the capabilities to strike enemy bases, they are calling for a sharp increase in the military defense budget – a double in defense spending to 2% of the GDP.

Image: Fstoppers

Unfortunately, considering the current economic vitality of Japan, a minor increase in military expenditure has a severe impact on the economy as it drives funds away from domestic programs, including those that have the potential to boost the economy. More specifically, a minor 1% increase in military spending, as the LDP is calling for, will decrease economic growth by 9% over a time period of 20 years. If Article 9 were revised, the expected increment in military spending would be even higher as the cap would be removed, causing Japan to become more active in military cooperation and development, creating a more catastrophic impact on its already lifeless economy. Currently, Japan’s economy is “friable“. Despite seeing a burst of economic activity during the third quarter of the Covid pandemic, epidemiological prevention measures have primarily influenced the Japanese economy, even though they are voluntary.

In addition, it has been struggling to produce more than a modest level of growth well before the breakout of Covid-19. An increase in military spending under a revised Article 9 would possibly stifle the minuscule scale of growth or even push the economy into recession and debt crisis. Economic pain within a country, especially for a global economic hub like Japan, can spread to other countries through a slowdown in trade and growth, undermining the financial stability of interdependent countries. Modifying Article 9 for more unnecessary military autonomy and power at the expanse of promoting impactful public programs and investment for the people is undeserving, particularly during an economic winter caused by the pandemic. 

Diplomatic Challenge

Diplomatic harm would also be inevitable under a reinterpreted version of Article 9. Currently, Japan is mediating in the Middle East because of its pacifist constitution. The government has the opportunity to facilitate a multilateral strategic dialogue within the region. The dialogue would help Middle Eastern states to adapt to US’s post-Afghanistan realignment, mitigate the risk of future destabilization and balance the interests between America and China. It carries a comparative advantage as a convener as it’s one of the few US allies which still has its reputation upheld in recent decades of political intervention – its popularity can be primarily attributed to its post-war consensus of pacifism. This has distinguished it from other US allies in the Middle East as an “honest broker“. After the 2014 revision, Article 9 has allowed Japan to engage in collective [self] defense when allies are under attack.

Image: Middle East Monitor

However, further amendments would motivate Japan to join the US coalition of offensive interventions. Japan’s willingness to participate in collective self-defense signifies, at least from the American perspective, that it can be “an assistant to help the US to police the world“. Simultaneously, the Pentagon might expect them to involve in US interventions abroad, and the risk of entangling in US wars has increased for Japan. If Japan joins the US coalition, it loses its credibility as a mediator. Taking part in US global interventions could potentially send a message to Iran that the Japanese government has joined the anti-Iran bloc, which would unavoidably deteriorate the Japan-Iran relationship, making the peaceful diplomatic dialogue virtually impossible.

The absence of a regional dialogue between Iran and its Gulf neighbors is devastating – the “inability” to communicate, specifically during military incidents, induces miscalculation and thus escalates conflicts into wars. Japan’s role as a peaceful breaker in the Middle East is imperative in facilitating regional stability. Further reinterpretations of Article 9 would only hinder the achievement of regional peace and stigmatize its reputation on the international stage.

Final Words

In conclusion, Japan ought not to revise Article 9 over the concerns of aggravating the political tension between countries, which triggers preemptive military responses, strangling its domestic economic growth, which can become a cross-regional economic pain and hinder the approach to regional stability while ruining its pacifistic reputation simultaneously. All states, not just Japan, have both legal and moral obligations to promote peace for the international community – unilateralism is alienation.

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