- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

TOKYO — Japan’s constitution should be rewritten to remove or amend pacifist safeguards imposed after World War II, according to a poll of candidates representing the country’s governing party published yesterday.

The survey by the Asahi newspaper showed that constitutional revision was favored by almost 90 percent of candidates from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is expected to win this week’s general election comfortably.

It also showed that some 60 percent of candidates from the main opposition Democrats are in favor of revising the constitution, though not necessarily Article 9, which prevents Japan from maintaining an offensive military capability.

The poll did not specifically ask which part of the constitution should be changed, but it is understood that many LDP members, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, believe Article 9 should be changed.

The article has been interpreted by successive governments as preventing Japan from exercising collective self-defense — the use of force to counter an attack on a foreign ally.

But that has been increasingly in doubt as Japan’s security situation has changed. Politicians and foreign-policy analysts have become acutely concerned by the erratic behavior of North Korea, which is openly pursuing nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, the defense minister said a pre-emptive attack on North Korea would be considered if a missile capable of reaching Japan was being made ready. In 1998, North Korea launched a missile over Japanese airspace, demonstrating its ability to hit Tokyo.

The Japanese Constitution renounces the right to make war and maintain an army. But yesterday’s poll indicates a growing consensus that this needs to be amended to enable Japan to play a greater role in regional security, particularly in the face of the threat from North Korea.

Any revision is likely to be preceded by a debate about how Article 9 can be altered to reflect the changing international situation without moving too radically away from Japan’s special status as a demilitarized nation.

In August, Mr. Koizumi suggested that the LDP should revise the constitution, including Article 9, by November 2005.

The United States has pressed Japan to play a bigger role in security and some Japanese want the country to be able to exercise collective self-defense.

Right-wingers say it is too reliant on the “umbrella” provided by its alliance with the United States and that it is time to become a “normal country” with a recognized military force to back its foreign policy.


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