COMMENTARY: Changing government interpretation would eviscerate Constitution

May 14, 2014

By KATSUHISA KURAMAE/ Staff Writer

The biggest problem with the report compiled by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security is its use of national security arguments to, in effect, eviscerate the Constitution.

The Constitution serves as the nation's supreme set of laws because of its role in placing limits on authority.

The traditional government interpretation of the Constitution that stated Japan possessed the right to collective self-defense, but could not exercise it, was established in 1981.

Ever since, successive administrations, with most being those led by the Liberal Democratic Party, have maintained that interpretation on the basis of constitutionalism, the view that the Constitution restricts authority.

Even when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made the decision to deploy the Self-Defense Forces during the Iraq War, the deployment was made within limits that did not go against the interpretation on collective self-defense.

In short, the current constitutional interpretation can be considered nothing less than the Constitution itself, as it is the result of accumulated decisions made over 30 years or so by politicians elected by the people and working together with the government.

More importantly, that interpretation is closely tied to the Constitution's Article 9, which underpins the foundation of the document.

The panel report seeks to change that interpretation based solely on what it describes as changes in the security environment facing Japan. For that reason, the report goes full tilt against the concept of constitutionalism.

The 14 members of the advisory panel are mainly experts in foreign affairs and national security. They include a former vice foreign minister, a former vice defense minister and a scholar of international law. All the members are in favor of allowing for the exercise of the right to collective self-defense.

Because the members were mainly chosen by Abe, it is no surprise that the language of the report is in line with Abe's oft-repeated stance.

If Abe now decides to use the report's recommendations to change the constitutional interpretation to allow for the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, he would be setting a dangerous precedent: It would allow changes in constitutional interpretation at the whim of the incumbent prime minister.

It would be tantamount to having an eviscerated Constitution that would be powerless to restrict the actions of all prime ministers who follow Abe.

By KATSUHISA KURAMAE/ Staff Writer
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a session of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security in December. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a session of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security in December. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a session of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security in December. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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