The Interpretation of Article 9 – A Never Ending Story?

The exercising of the collective self-defense right was agreed upon in the Japanese Diet on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. At the same time, a protest rally took place in front of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo. All nations are allowed to exercise their collective self-defense right under the UN Charter. Nevertheless, the present interpretation of article 9 of the Japanese Constitution has excluded this right.

Since so many Japanese are supporting this war-renouncing article, the Japanese government might not have much of a chance to revise it, but changing the current interpretation would also serve the government’s end.

Article 9 – Renunciation of War – of the Japanese Constitution reads:

“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.” (National Diet Library: Constitution of Japan 1946)[1]

It seems that the Japanese should seriously reconsider two major concerns: whom is the constitution for and who defends Japan. Since article 9 above has to much interpretational latitude, it should be rewritten to avoid causing diverse interpretations. The Japanese constitution is for the Japanese after all. If the Japanese themselves have difficulty in the interpretation of this article, they should rewrite it. It is their right and duty. It is not wise to argue about its interpretation for decades.

Second, the Japanese should be seriously concerned about their defense. Pacifism and the constitutionally sanctioned renouncement of war are indisputably respectful and worth; however, both do not guarantee that Japan can avoid all conflicts including being attacked by a third party. In case of serious events, the Japanese should be totally sure about who defends them. Every country makes its decisions based on its national interests. If Japan possessed neither individual nor collective self-defense rights, it should be well aware of facing the risk that support might not come forward from neither within nor without Japan.

If the Japanese decide to defend themselves or at least give it a try, they must automatically start to analyze the cases in which they need support and what kind of support they need from whom. Some examples were given by the Japanese government to explain how the collective self-defense right works. One is that Japan’s Self Defense-Force protects US military vessels which evacuate Japanese citizens from conflict zones.[2] This example could indicate that Japan would not be ready at all for emergency cases. It might presume that Japanese citizens living abroad were evacuated by the US. In this case, Japan needs the self-defense right to rescue its own people, not the collective self-defense right.

Whether or not Japan possesses individual and collective self-defense rights, the Japanese should contemplate at first what they can and want to do for themselves and their country. This has nothing to do with starting wars or avoiding the danger of a military resurgence. The Japanese at first need to face the reality of defending themselves rather than discussing the danger of starting wars.

Japan has a security treaty with the US which stipulates US protection for Japan in case Japan is attacked by a third party. Thus, many Japanese also see the political development under Abe’s cabinet with a great worry and fear becoming entangled in US initiated oversees military dispatches. Concerning the collective self-defense right, Japan should set a clear guideline in order to make the decision whether Japan’s Self Defense-Force is dispatched abroad or not. Even though the US is Japan’s ally, Japan does not need to send its military forces to wherever the US armed forces are dispatched. Japan should prioritize its national interests, as does the US. It becomes more important to pay greater attention to political decision making, and it is also a citizen’s duty to do so.

Furthermore, it could be a first step to establish a mutual defense organization within Asia and the Pacific region akin to the NATO in Europe. Nonetheless, the relationship between South Korea and Japan has deteriorated, and gaining the people’s acceptance to use the collective self-defense right is most likely very difficult for both sides. In case of territorial conflicts (e.g., islands that both claim) between China and Japan, South Korea might not be willing to use the collective self-defense right to support Japan. Additionally, the ASEAN countries are seemingly not ready yet either. If an organization like the NATO could be established in this contested region, stability would increase. On the other hand, isolating China might be undesirable too.


[1] National Diet Library: The Constitution of Japan. Text of the Constitution and Other Important Documents. Tokyo, Japan. [accessed March 3, 2007]

[2] Akahata Shinbun: Shudanteki Jieiken Kaishakukaiken he Higenjitsuteki 15 Jirei (Collective self-defense right changing interpretation of the constitution unrealistic 15 examples) [accessed July 1, 2014]

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