Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed amending the Japanese constitution to formalize the existence of the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) by 2020.

Abe has made reforming Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, the ‘pacifist clause,’ a central theme in his time as Prime Minister. Polls show support for the change growing annually, while opposition slowly trickles away.

Tensions with North Korea have only added weight to the calls for allowing Japan to officially wield an offensively capable military. But the issue of Japanese formal pacifism is a sensitive one in Japan, where World War Two veterans and survivors still alive today remember the calamitous destruction that was brought upon Japan’s people in the aftermath of that war.

Abe made his pronouncement on Wednesday, a national holiday celebrating the writing of the Japanese constitution in 1947. Written by the United States as victors and occupiers over Japan, the constitution forever forbade the Japanese from the use or even threat of military force ever again.

But as politics have shifted over the decades, Japan’s subsequent interpretations of their official pacifism has led to a Japanese Self Defense Forces that are ‘non-military’ in name only. The Japanese ground, air, and naval defense forces are a well-trained, well-equipped, and professional fighting force. Japan’s primary regional competitors China and North Korea are under no illusion that the JSDF pose a limited threat. North Korea launches missiles over and near Japan on a near-routine basis, and China bitterly resists all Japanese projections of power in the region, economic, military, or otherwise, in part due to a long memory of Japanese actions in China during World War Two.

Given that Japan already possesses a functioning military, the issue of revising the constitution is essentially over rethinking Japan’s role in the world again. Abe’s leadership in passing a law that would allow Japanese troops to fight overseas drew massive protest from young and old alike, concerned that a re-militarized Japan will pursue a foreign policy that will only make war more likely.

46 percent of Japanese voters wish to keep the constitution the way it is, down four percent since last year. 45 percent of voters want the change, up five percent in the same period.

Image courtesy of the Reuters

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