Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe’s government insists Japanese constitution does not explicitly prohibit nuclear weapons

The revelation has caused headlines in some left-of-centre newspapers and surprise among the majority of the public.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 5:38pm

The government of Shinzo Abe has stated that there is nothing in the nation’s Constitution that explicitly forbids Japan from possessing or using nuclear weapons.

The government’s position on the issue was made clear in a written response to a question posed by two opposition politicians in the Diet on Friday. And although the present government interprets Article 9 of the war-renouncing Constitution as not banning Japan from having a nuclear deterrent, it emphasised in the written response that the government “firmly maintains a policy principle that it does not possess nuclear weapons of any type under the three non-nuclear principles”.

I would assume this has come as something of a surprise to the Japanese public
Jun Okumura, Meiji Institute for Global Affairs

Analysts point out that Abe’s reading of the Constitution is actually consistent with the previous government’s interpretation, although the revelation has caused headlines in some left-of-centre newspapers and surprise among the majority of the public.

In a statement in the Diet in 1978, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda said Article 9 does not “absolutely prohibit” Japan from having nuclear weapons, as long as they are “limited to the minimum necessary level”, the Asahi newspaper reported.

That comment had largely been forgotten until Yusuke Yokobatake, the director general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, stated at a meeting of the Upper House Budget Committee on March 18 that the Constitution does not ban Japan from using nuclear weapons. That comment was seized upon by the opposition and led to questions to the prime minister.

“I would assume this has come as something of a surprise to the Japanese public,” said Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs. “I was dimly aware in my youth that there had been serious talks about Japan having nuclear weapons, under the administration of Eisaku Sato in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

“But that was at the time of the cold war and nuclear weapons were being considered by several nations in the region, including Taiwan and South Korea.

“It was not until much more recently – perhaps the last decade or so – that I learned that the right to have nuclear weapons is actually Japan’s accepted doctrine.”

The government’s tacit position, now made clear, may cause renewed concerns among neighbouring countries already watching Abe’s administration warily, as well as a proportion of the Japanese public.

It was only in 2014, for example, that an estimated 10,000 demonstrators gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo to protest Abe’s interpretation of the Constitution to mean that Japanese troops are permitted to go to the assistance of forces of allied nations in the event of a military incident. In addition, the new reading of the Constitution allows Tokyo to send troops to combat zones to assist in military operations.

Abe had stated previously that he is keen for Japan to play a more proactive role that is more commensurate with its economic power in international peacekeeping operations and in other security hot spots.

The government’s comments coincide with statements by Donald Trump, the front runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for this year’s US elections.

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Over the weekend, Trump reiterated his belief that the US should reduce its military presence overseas and, to pick up the security slack, Japan and South Korea should develop and deploy nuclear weapons.

“I would rather have them not armed but I’m not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money,” Trump told supporters during a rally in Wisconsin on Saturday.

“And frankly, the case could be made that ... let them protect themselves against North Korea. They would probably wipe them out pretty quick.

“Good luck, folks. Enjoy yourselves. If they fight, that would be terrible, right? But if they do, they do.”