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Since shortly after the end of World War II, Japan has been enshrined in its “pacifist constitution,” which essentially states that military expenditures and activities must be only in the defense of country. In fact, Article 9 goes so far as to renounce war and forbid Japan to have a full-fledged (i.e., offensive-capable) military. Public servants, including teachers, are not even permitted to participate in debate of the constitution.
But it seems this is all about to change. The goal of recent administrations has been for the Japanese government to possibly revise its constitution, with current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe deeming this move essential to his country shedding its “post-war image.” Washington has long backed such a move, but resistance has been strong from Japan’s neighbors, particularly China. A new bill, approved by the upper house of Parliament, will allow a referendum to be held as early as 2010. Mr. Abe told reporters, “The law will be implemented three years hence, and until then, it is important to debate broadly and deeply in a calm environment” (Reuters).
Current polls suggest the population is split on the issue. In recent years, however, Japanese governments have tweaked the restrictions by passing special laws to allow, for example, non-combat troops to be sent to Iraq, or increased defense planning and integration with the United States.
With a population of 127 million, and possessing the world’s fourth-largest economy, Japan is facing increased geopolitical pressure from rival China for natural resources and strategic alliances, but also uncertain threats from Russia and North Korea. Revising its pacifist constitution may indicate that Japan is aiming to take certain steps to address those concerns.