Pacifism is enshrined in the Constitution, with a clause known as Article 9 calling for the complete renunciation of war. That clause represents a cherished part of the country’s postwar identity, and Mr. Abe has long made clear his desire to amend it. Previous calls to revise it have been met with skepticism in Japan and in countries including China and South Korea that object to any signs of Japan’s remilitarization.
Successive Japanese governments, as well as scholars, have argued that the military is constitutional because the charter allows the country to defend itself.
But Mr. Abe has pushed for a much broader interpretation, and two years ago he helped secure passage of security legislation that authorized overseas combat missions by the military in the name of “collective self-defense” and alongside allied troops. The passage of the laws came after a grinding political battle and days of public demonstrations.
Acknowledging the politically delicate nature of the latest proposal to revise the Constitution, Mr. Abe said on Wednesday that the country “must hold fast to the idea of pacifism.”
Analysts said it was a shrewd calculation intended to reassure skeptics and set a precedent for revision. Mr. Abe and his cabinet “are aware that Article 9 is very popular, and revising Article 9 is going to be alarming to many countries around them,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo. Just last week, a survey by the public broadcaster NHK found that 82 percent of respondents were “proud of the current Constitution that advocates pacifism.”
Mr. Nakano said that Mr. Abe’s proposal “could be a convincing idea, but it could also bring forth inevitable criticism that you’ve broken the Constitution first, and you are ex post facto trying to make it O.K.”
About 55,000 people attended a meeting in Tokyo opposing the amendment, and opposition was strong on social media.
“Is there an earnest desire among people to change the current Constitution at all costs? I’ve never heard that there are many such voices,” wrote Tomo Kimura on Twitter.
But others suggested that Mr. Abe was merely trying to align the Constitution with current practice. “I think the Constitution should be amended corresponding to the reality in which Japan’s security environment has dramatically changed,” someone wrote on Twitter under the handle @_500 yen.
Toru Hashimoto, former governor and mayor of Osaka, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily, that it was time to clearly make the self-defense forces legal.
“It might have been unconstitutional right after the war,” he said, “but there is no doubt that the S.D.F. are constitutional now.”
Jun Okumura, a former government official and now a visiting researcher at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, said he thought Mr. Abe would be able to pass the amendment. In a July election, the governing coalition and its allies captured two-thirds of the seats in the upper house of Parliament, the amount required to proceed with a constitutional revision.
Any revision would also be subject to approval in a referendum. A poll published this week by Kyodo News showed that respondents were nearly equally split on the question of whether the pacifist clause should be revised.
Continue reading the main story