Article 9 and International Peacemaking
In May 1947, Article 9 was added into the Constitution of Japan. The origins of the article, and who was behind its conception, are as debated as how it should be interpreted, but its wording is clearer: it was to be a clause that aimed at creating ‘international peace’. 75 years later, this blog post aims to look at the debate around Article 9 in Japan today, and the questions that is continues to raise about the concept of world peace.
After World War Two, and the failure of the League of Nations to prevent it, the Japanese government and Allied Powers added Article 9 to the Constitution of Japan. The section lays out the following laws:
“1. 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.”
In short, the clause represented a commitment on the behalf of the Japanese government not to be involved in any future conflicts, by revoking the right of the state to wage war. While the Japanese Prime Minister at the time, Kijūrō Shidehara, was credited with its creation and claimed to have suggested Article 9, many see it as a law imposed by the Allied Forces. In either case, similarly to Article 24, which was introduced to the German Constitution during this period, Article 9 was a clause introduced to an occupied country which limited its military power following the war. This context is important in order to understand the complicated motivations behind its introduction, and the impact they have had on public perception of the law.
Article 9’s legacy has been a complicated one. Although its stated intention was “international peace”, many felt that the law put Japan at great risk on a world stage where other countries retained their forces, and conflicts in the following years brought into question how it affected Japan’s right to defend itself. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, US troops were quickly pulled out of occupied Japan and sent to the front lines, and the first semblance of armed forces were reintroduced to the country: the National Police Reserve.
In the decades following, Japanese defensive forces continued to grow in spite of the clause, using the need for self-defence as a justification. In 1954 the National Police Reserve evolved into the Japanese Self Defence Forces (JSDF), which exist to this day, and include land, sea and air forces. Laws related to the JSDF have also been passed in response to international events. In 2001, Japan passed a law allowing the JSDF to independently contribute to international efforts to prevent and eradicate terrorism, where previously they would not have been involved. Their powers were expanded in 2007, and again in 2015 to allow them to provide military support to allies in conflicts outside of Japan.
Public perceptions of the JSDF, and their function in Japanese society, have always been mixed, with some arguing that their role is unconstitutional. Recently, there have been increasing calls from within the Japanese government to amend Article 9, and in a public survey from May this year, 50% of respondents were in favour of constitutional amendments to clarify the role of the JSDF. Although such a proposal is unlikely to radically change the role of the JSDF, it could set a precedent for amending a law that has remained untouched since its conception, a prospect that worries many peace campaigners.
Despite these complexities, and mixed public opinion, Article 9 is still upheld by some as an example of international peacemaking legislation, and Japanese peace activists have campaigned for it to be maintained for many years. In May 2008, The Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War was held over 2 days in Japan, which was attended by over 33,000 people, and around 200 guest speakers from around the world. The conference was created to discuss how the principles of Article 9 could be used to create similar laws internationally, and promote a culture of peace.
Rather than viewing Article 9 as only having relevance to Japan then, peace activists approach it as a potential model for similar laws everywhere. As the founder and director of Peace Boat, one of the conference’s organizers, said:
“The military involvement of the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that peace can’t be created by force and military power. Article 9 is the tool to think how we can create peace by non-violent principles and values, through the rule of law and demilitarization. Maybe it is a long way, but it is the only way!”
This sign from our collection is from The Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions, a group which is working for the abolition of nuclear weapons amongst other things. They are one group that continues to call for the protection of Article 9, and that stands in opposition to those trying to amend it. In a statement released by their President this May, the federation expressed concern about discussions over Japan having nuclear weapons:
“Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on a news program on February 27 that as some member countries of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) share nuclear weapons with the United States, Japan should not make it taboo to discuss the reality of how the world security is protected… Japan, the only atomic-bombed nation, has maintained the Three Non-nuclear Principles (not to possess, manufacture, or allow nuclear weapons to be brought into Japan) as its national policy. The remarks of former Prime Minister Abe and other LDP senior members deny this postwar history…
The Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions, which calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons and protection of peace and the environment in its mission statement and has continuously worked with Hibakusha, condemns and protests against the statements by former Prime Minister Abe and other LDP senior politicians.”
In July 2022, just 3 months after this statement was released, Shinzo Abe was assassinated while speaking at a political event. As perhaps Japan’s most vocal proponent for reforming Article 9, and a very controversial figure in Japanese politics, the impact that this event will have on the debate is yet to be seen. The killer cited personal motivations surrounding his family and the former Prime Minister’s ties to the Unification church as his reasons for carrying out the shooting.
The debate around Article 9 raises some important questions about international peacemaking, with implications not only for Japan but for peacemaking organizations globally. What purpose does the disarming of a single country serve while armed conflict continues to happen in neighbouring countries? Can the motives for introducing laws aimed at peacemaking ultimately undermine this goal? Where do we draw the line between a country preparing for war and keeping defensive forces? And could laws like Article 9 serve as a blueprint for anti-war measures globally?