Japan's pacifist constitution: After 70 years, nation changes the rules so it can go to war

The country will now be able to engage in collective self-defence and come to the aid of a military ally who is under attack, but the move has proved to be bitterly divisive

tokyo

Japan’s coalition government has approved a controversial reinterpretation of the nation’s pacifist constitution that will let its troops fight overseas for the first time since the Second World War.

The decision means that Japan will be able to engage in collective self-defence and come to the aid of a military ally under attack – principally the United States. The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, says the new strategy, widely viewed as the biggest change to Japan’s defence posture in nearly 70 years, is needed to deal with growing threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The global situation surrounding Japan is becoming ever more difficult,” Mr Abe said in a televised press conference. “Being fully prepared is effective in discouraging any attempt to wage a war on Japan. The cabinet decision today will further lessen the chance of Japan being engaged in war. That is my conviction.” 

The move is backed by the US, Japan’s main military ally, but it has been bitterly divisive in a country where pacifism is deeply embedded. Polls show that most Japanese oppose the reinterpretation. Thousands of demonstrators have been outside the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo since Monday, chanting anti-war slogans.

On Sunday, a man set himself alight outside Tokyo’s busiest train station in apparent protest. “Abe is ignoring public opinion and our constitution because he wants a bigger military,” said Yumiko Fujiwara. “I can’t forgive him.”

The cabinet decision has also angered Beijing. A stinging editorial in the Xinhua English website said Mr Abe is “leading his country down a dangerous path” by “gutting the constitution”. The editorial said: “No matter how Abe glosses over it, he is dallying with the spectre of war through a cheap scam.”

Mr Abe spent months negotiating the change with his government’s coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito, which pledged to protect the constitution. The reinterpretation is a compromise between the pacifism of New Komeito and the more hawkish line taken by Mr Abe’s Liberal Democrats (LDP).

A draft cabinet resolution said Japan would be able to come to the aid of an ally in limited circumstances, such as if an attack posed “an imminent threat to Japan’s survival” or the lives and rights of its people. It said the right to “minimum force” would be exercised if other means to eliminate that threat have failed. Mr Abe says such rights are needed to allow Japan to become a “proactive” contributor to world peace.

Months of cabinet discussions have revealed deep divisions on the scope of interpretation for military actions allowed under the law. Mr Abe wants Japan to join mine-sweeping operations through sea lanes in the Middle East, through which most of the oil destined for Japan passes, but New Komeito argued that clearing mines during war went far beyond self-defence.

Critics say the new guidelines have been left deliberately vague to allow the government more room to decide military engagements.

“They’re only the opening step in future plans to send Japanese soldiers abroad,” said Hiroyuki Konishi, an opposition lawmaker who opposed the changes. The constitution was written in 1946 during the American occupation of Japan. 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
news

Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
life
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower