Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Japan’s Peace Constitution in Crisis

July 15, 2014

  Susan Gunn, CCAO Communications and Outreach Associate

On July 1, after 60 years of constitutional pacifism, the Japanese government under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a decree that essentially abolishes Article 9 from the Constitution.

What is Article 9?

Article 9 is in the second chapter of the National Constitution, entitled “Renunciation of War.” It states: “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. 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.”

Columban Fr. Harry O'Carroll in Japan

The Columban Fathers have a long history of serving the Japanese people, starting in 1948, when the nation was just beginning to recover from the devastation of World War II. The Columban Fathers stand for preserving Article 9 as important not only for Japan but for the world. We continue to support the message by Japanese Bishop Marcellinus Daiji Tani of the Saitama Diocese and Chairman of Japan’s Catholic Council for Justice and Peace to President Obama: “We ask you to support and work with us…We believe that peace cannot be achieved by military force.  We believe that only through patient dialogue which is open to diversity, justice, equality, and mutual respect is peace made possible.”

It became apparent in the Fall of 2013 that Prime Minister Abe was working towards eliminating Article 9. On December 7, 2013, the Japanese Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement of protest over “the steamrolling of the Special Secrets Bill” by the majority-power-holding Liberal Democratic Party which unilaterally pushed the Special Secrets Bill through the Lower and Upper House of the Diet. The Bishops’ protest included the following:
“If the Minister of Defense specifies a matter as a “Special Secret,” it will be carried out in secret, even if it involves such matters as the overseas deployment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces or joint operations with U.S. military forces in violation of Article 9 of the Constitution. It will shake the foundation of pacifism declared in the preface of the Constitution.”

Seven months later, Prime Minister Abe led his party in affectively abolishing Article 9 entirely.

What is the new decree?

The new decree allows the Japanese self-defense armed forces to provide military assistance to an ally under attack, when three conditions are met: the attack on the third country poses a clear danger to Japan’s survival or to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its people; there is no other way of repelling the armed attack to protect Japan and its citizens; the use of force is limited to the minimum necessary.

The previous interpretation had limited the use of military force to Japan being under direct attack.

Unfortunately, on the same day, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel released the statement “This decision is an important step for Japan as it seeks to make a greater contribution to regional and global peace and security.”

Response by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan

On June 7, Peter Takeo Okada, Archbishop of Tokyo and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan made the following comments on the news that Prime Minister Abe has invited Pope Francis to Japan.

“We Japanese people deeply regret our past conduct that led to the Second World War, and have promulgated the Constitution of Japan, known as the Peace Constitution, under which Japan forever renounces war. Since then we have carried on as a nation which refuses to wage war, and we have contributed to world peace. We are sure that such conduct will be well received by the Pope. As is well known, Japanese citizens who have maintained Article 9 of the Constitution have been nominated as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. We sincerely wish that the Pope would encourage and inspire the Japanese people who have such a wonderful Constitution and continue to appeal to the world for the renunciation of war. Moreover, as Saint John Paul II did 33 years ago when he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we fervently hope that Pope Francis will appeal to the world to not repeat the tragedy of war anymore.”

Less than one year ago, Archbishop Okada stressed the importance of Article 9 as a source of pride for humanity. “Article 9 is a world treasure of which Japan is proud. It reflects Jesus Christ’s teaching of love most abundantly. Because of Article 9, [post World War II] Japan has never killed anyone in war, and no Japanese people have been killed in war. It is our crucial responsibility to protect and make the most of Article 9.”

We stand in solidarity with the Japanese Catholic Bishops and call for the preservation of Article 9 in the Japanese National Constitution.

Faith in Action: Sign the petition “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: Save Japan’s Peace Constitution” created by the Global Article 9 Campaign