After WWII, Japan Made One of the World’s Strongest Commitments to Military Pacifism—Which It’s Now Going to Soften

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to rejigger Japan’s long-standing commitment to pacificism

Photo: B.S.P.I./Corbis

On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan will be reinterpreting Japan's official position as a pacifist country, Vox reports. Currently, Japan is only allowed to engage in military combat if it is attacked first. But under the new policy, Japan would be able to in some cases fight for its allies.

The country's commitment to pacifism dates back to 1947, when U.S.-occupied Japan penned Article 9 into the Japanese constitution. That legislation 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) 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.

After the World War II, the Allies set out to implement new constitutions for several of the Axis nations, the Atlantic reports, supposedly in an effort to prevent such a devastating conflict from ever happening again. As the Atlantic details: 

Article 26 of the German constitution, drafted in 1948, declares that “[a]cts tending to and undertaken with intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for a war of aggression, shall be unconstitutional.” Italy similarly “rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes” in Article 11 of its post-war constitution. Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, however, goes much further than the others in abolishing militarism.

In Japan, the constitution has remained the same since its post-WWII drafting. While Japan has pushed the limits of that legislation before—it maintains a military by calling it a "police force," for example, and has deployed unarmed troops to places like Iraq—the new interpretation, if it materializes, would be one of the most significant break from Article 9 to date. Although the majority of Japanese citizens oppose any direct revisions to the constitution, the Diplomat reports, Abe has been "trudging ahead relentlessly," if not for a revision, then for a reinterpretation.  

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