Analysis: Japan's Abe gets second chance at loosening limits on military

Tue Dec 11, 2012 2:14am EST
 

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - A likely win by Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats in this weekend's election will give the ex-Japanese premier a second chance to achieve his goal of easing the limits of a pacifist constitution on the military to let Tokyo play a bigger global security role.

Surveys released on Tuesday showed the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its ally are headed for a big victory in Sunday's vote for parliament's lower house, returning them to power after a three-year gap.

As prime minister in 2006-2007, Abe made revising the 1947 constitution a key part of a drive to shed a U.S.-imposed "post-war regime" that conservatives say weakened traditional values and fostered too apologetic a view of Japan's wartime history. He still hopes to achieve what he has called his "life work".

Growing worries about China's military clout mean conditions are better than before for changing how the U.S-drafted charter is interpreted - if not formally rewriting the document yet - to let Tokyo drop a self-imposed ban on exercising its right to collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack.

That would allow Japan's military to shoot down a North Korean missile headed for U.S. cities, come to the aid of a U.S. vessel under attack on the high seas and generally ease the path for joint operations with U.S. forces, experts say.

"I think changing the interpretation is relatively easy procedurally and substantially and in terms of mood, it is the right atmosphere," said Richard Samuels, director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, an expert in Japan's security policies.

"He will do it because he can. The stars are aligned for that kind of shift sooner rather than later."

The constitution's Article 9 renounces the right to wage war to resolve international disputes and, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of a military.   Continued...

 
Then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, in this file picture taken September 12, 2007. A likely win by Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats in this weekend's election will give the ex-Japanese premier a second chance to achieve his goal of easing the limits of a pacifist constitution on the military to let Tokyo play a bigger global security role, Reuters reported on December 11, 2012. To match Analysis JAPAN-ELECTION/CONSTITUTION REUTERS/Toru Hanai