Japan's 'Reinterpretation' of Article 9: A Pyrrhic Victory for American Foreign Policy?

Author:Jeffrey P. Richter
Position:J.D. Candidate, University of Iowa College of Law, 2016; B.A., University of Iowa, 2011
Pages:1223-1262
SUMMARY

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution expressly renounces war as a means to resolve international disputes. Yet since its initial promulgation in 1947, Article 9 has been interpreted to allow Japan the right to self-defense. To that end, Japan today possesses one of the most powerful and modern militaries in the world. In the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe circumvented the... (see full summary)

 
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1223
Japan’s “Reinterpretation” of Article 9:
A Pyrrhic Victory for American Foreign
Policy?
Jeffrey P. Richter*
ABSTRACT: Article 9 of the Japanese constitution expressly renounces war
as a means to resolve international disputes. Yet since its initial
promulgation in 1947, Article 9 has been interpreted to allow Japan the right
to self-defense. To that end, Japan today possesses one of the most powerful
and modern militaries in the world. In the summer of 2014, Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe circumvented the constitutional amendment process, and,
through a cabinet decision, issued a “reinterpretation” of Article 9 that
allowed Japan for the first time to engage in collective self-defense. The
questionable constitutionality of Abe’s reinterpretation engendered much
debate and protest in Japan and abroad. The United States effectively ignored
the domestic and international outcry and gave the reinterpretation its
blessing, however, as it has desired greater assistance from the Japanese
military since the beginning of the Cold War. Yet the unstable legal basis on
which Abe’s reinterpretation rests creates the very real danger that Japan’s
newly-declared right of collective self-defense could eventually be retracted,
leaving the United States without the support upon which it has based new
foreign policy commitments. This Note argues that the United States must take
steps in order to prevent Japan’s reinterpretation of Article 9 from becoming a
Pyrrhic victory for American foreign policy. First, the United States should
encourage Japan to legitimize any right of collective self-defense through
traditional legal structures and thus solidify its reinterpretation of Article 9.
Second, the United States should continue to reduce tensions between Japan
and its neighbors before investing further resources into the Japanese side of
regional disputes.
* J.D. Candidate, University of Iowa College of Law, 2016; B.A., University of Iowa, 2011.
I would like to thank Professor Stephen Vlastos of University of Iowa History Department for his
guidance in developing this topic. I am also indebted to the Iowa Law Review Volume 101 team
for their efforts in bringing this Note to publication. I reserve my greatest gratitude for the
support of my family and especially my wife, Chika. Any mistakes are entirely my own.
1224 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 101:1223
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1224
II. HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE JAPANESE CONSTITUTION
AND ARTICLE 9 ............................................................................ 1227
A. DRAFTING A NEW CONSTITUTION: GIVE PEACE A CHANCE? ..... 1229
B. A PACIFIST NATION IN A WORLD AT COLD WAR ...................... 1234
C. THE BIRTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF-DEFENSE
FORCE ................................................................................... 1237
D. THE RESTRICTIONS “IMPOSED BY ARTICLE 9 ......................... 1240
III. JAPANS NEWLY-DECLARED RIGHT OF COLLECTIVE SELF-
DEFENSE ...................................................................................... 1242
A. PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABES “REINTERPRETATION OF
ARTICLE 9 ............................................................................ 1244
B. AMERICAS RESPONSE: QUID PRO QUO? .................................. 1247
C. A PYRRHIC VICTORY FOR THE UNITED STATES? ...................... 1251
1. Foreign Relations in 21st-Century Asia ..................... 1251
2. An Unstable Legal Foundation .................................. 1254
IV. CRAFTING A FOREIGN POLICY VICTORY IN EAST ASIA ................. 1259
A. PROMOTING JAPANS RULE OF LAW ........................................ 1260
B. RESOLVING, RATHER THAN EXACERBATING, DISPUTES ............ 1261
V. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 1262
I. INTRODUCTION
My Lord, is that . . . legal?
I will make it legal.1
It was a warm Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2014, and Tokyo’s
Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world, was bustling as usual.2
Throngs of people streamed in and out of the enormous station, as friends
and family met in the heart of the metropolis to enjoy their day off. Amidst
the crowd of leisure-seekers, a lone man climbed to the top of an elevated
pedestrian bridge outside one of the station’s numerous exits. Hundreds of
curious people stopped to peer up at him. Sitting cross-legged and
brandishing a megaphone, the man began to shout protests against Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempt to amend Japan’s “pacifist” constitution. After
1. STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE 0:04:48 (20th Century Fox 1999)
(quoting Darth Sidious, responding to Viceroy Nute Gunray).
2. Busiest Station, GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS, http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/
world-records/busiest-station (last visited Jan. 20, 2016).
2016] JAPAN’S “REINTERPRETATION” OF ARTICLE 9 1225
speaking for over an hour, the protestor recited a poem by the anti-war poet
Yosano Akiko and set his megaphone aside. He then reached for the plastic
bottle he had brought with him and began to douse himself with liquid. Some
of the onlookers below thought he was just drunk. However, the crowd soon
reacted in horror as the man suddenly burst into flame.3
The Shinjuku self-immolation incident was just one of the many protests
against Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to “reinterpret” Article 9 of the Japanese
constitution.4 Often referred to as the “pacifist clause,” Article 9 expressly
“renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of
force as means of settling international disputes,” and forbids Japan from
maintaining “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential” for such
purposes.5 However, since its initial promulgation in 1947, the Japanese
government and its judiciary have interpreted Article 9 to allow Japan the
right to self-defense, and to that end the country today possesses one of the
most powerful and modern militaries in the world.6 Yet as its name implies,
Japan’s Self-Defense Force has traditionally been curtailed by Article 9 to a
strictly self-defensive posture.7 This posture changed in the summer of 2014,
when Abe circumvented the constitutional amendment process and, through
a controversial cabinet decision, issued a “reinterpretation” of Article 9 that
allowed Japan for the first time to engage in collective self-defense and thus
come to the aid of an ally under attack.8
3. Reiji Yoshida & Tomohiro Osaki, Fiery Suicide Bid Shocks Shinjuku on Eve of Historic Security
Decision, JAPAN TIMES (June 30, 2014), http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/06/30/national/
fiery-suicide-bid-shocks-shinjuku; see also Jeff Kingston & Asano Ken’ichi, Japanese Mass Media Buries Self-
Immolation Protest over Abe Government’s Constitutional Coup, ASIA-PAC. J.: JAPAN FOCUS (Sept. 15, 2014),
http://japanfocus.org/events/make_pdf/228. The protester survived the suicide attempt. Martin
Fackler, Japanese Protester Sets Himself on Fire at Train Station in Tokyo, N.Y. TIMES (June 29, 2014), http://
www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/world/asia/japanese-protester-sets-himself-on-fire-in-tokyo.html.
4. See Minami Funakoshi, Thousands Denounce Japanese PM Abe’s Security Shift, REUTERS
(June 30, 2014, 8:53 AM), http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/30/us-japan-defenseidUS
KBN0F503U20140630; Maan Pamintuan-Lamorena, 3,000 Protest in Tokyo Against Revision of
Japan’s Pacifist Constitution, JAPAN DAILY PRESS (Apr. 9, 2014), http://japandailypress.com/3000-
protest-in-tokyo-against-revision-of-japans-pacifist-constitution-0947015; Yoshida & Osaki, supra
note 3. Even the celebrated animation director Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli lent his voice to
the chorus advocating for the preservation of Article 9. Miyazaki Hayao, Constitutional Amendment
Is Out of the Question, ASIA-PAC. J.: JAPAN FOCUS (Sept. 8, 2014), http://japanfocus.org/-Miyazaki-
Hayao/4176/article.pdf.
5. NIHONKOKU KENPŌ [KENPŌ] [CONSTITUTION], art. 9 (Japan).
6. See STOCKHOLM INTL PEACE RESEARCH INST., THE SHARE OF WORLD MILITARY EXPENDITURE
OF THE 15 STATES WITH THE HIGHEST EXPENDITURE IN 2013 (2014), http://www.sipri.org/research/
armaments/milex/milex-graphs-for-data-launch-2014/The-share-of-world-military-expenditure-of-
the-15-states-with-the-highest-expenditure-in-2013.png (showing Japan’s military spending in 2013
was ranked eighth globally, accounting for 2.8% of the world’s combined military spending that
year); see also infra Part II.C.
7. See infra Part II.D.
8. See infra Part III.A.

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