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Former defense minister wants to eliminate deep-rooted discrimination against SDF by codifying it in Constitution

[Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera made the following remarks during an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.]


Interviewed by Yohei Odakura, political news department


The public places high confidence in the Self-Defense Forces. It thinks the SDF is necessary. But not a few constitutional scholars insist the SDF “may be unconstitutional.” They give as the reason for their insistence that one article could be interpreted to mean the SDF is in violation of the Constitution. 


When I was defense minister in 2018, Japan was struck by a series of natural disasters, including the torrential rain in western Japan and a powerful earthquake in Hokkaido. I’ve watched mud-splattered SDF personnel saving human lives. I went all over the country to encourage SDF members and was often told by them that they felt ashamed because of the deep-rooted argument that the SDF is unconstitutional. 


One mid-ranking SDF officer once told me, “When I was a child, my teacher made discriminatory remarks about me because my father was an SDF member.” In the 1970s, there were movements to refuse applications for resident registration made by SDF members. And in Okinawa there was the tragedy in which SDF members were not invited to a coming-of-age ceremony [hosted by a local municipality].


In order to correct these “distortions,” we need to clearly specify the existence of the SDF in the Constitution. The potential unconstitutionality of a military or an armed force is something raised in no other country in the world. We need to define the status of the SDF in the Constitution to enhance the deterrence for security.


The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) independently drafted four revisions to the Constitution in 2018. We made sure that the LDP’s plan regarding the stipulation of the SDF does not lead to concern that the SDF’s capabilities and activities might change. A constitutional amendment requires broad understanding from the public and political parties. The LDP’s plan is well crafted.


Some people point out that specifying the existence of the SDF in the Constitution will contradict Paragraph 2 [of Article 9], which bans Japan from possessing any war potential. But it is widely understood that the SDF “can have war potential within the scope of self-defense.” So there should be no problem.


The suggested four revisions include the improvement of education, the creation of an emergency powers clause, the dissolution of merged constituencies for upper house elections in addition to the stipulation of the SDF. The necessity of an emergency powers clause is drawing attention following the spread of infection with the new type of coronavirus in China and elsewhere. At this moment, I believe we should respond as we normally would. But if we assume a situation where hundreds of thousands of people in Japan are infected and a percentage of them die, we should have an emergency powers clause to overcome various legal restraints.


The Diet’s commissions on the constitution are still unable to begin substantial debate toward constitutional revision. Some political parties refuse to even stand at the starting line. Opinions of the LDP’s plan can be expressed at the commissions. We also want other parties to provide a basis for discussion by showing their own plans. That is a responsibility of politicians.

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