The following editorial appeared in Wednesday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking revision of his country’s post-World War II constitution to permit a more active role for its armed forces. The move poses big questions for the United States.
The United States wrote the 1947 constitution, barring Japan from having its own armed forces, a measure designed to prevent it from ever again invading its neighbors or attacking the United States. Since 1954 the ban has been interpreted to permit “self-defense forces.” Meanwhile, the United States stations 50,000 troops in Japan at 84 bases.
The stimulus to Mr. Abe’s move to change the constitution, expressed in a speech last week, was the constraint on Japan in responding to the Islamic State group’s murder of two Japanese hostages. Mr. Abe also feels reinforced by the victory of his Liberal Democratic Party in December elections.
To amend Japan’s constitution, a two-thirds majority of both houses of the parliament must approve, followed by ratification in a referendum. Many Japanese still favor keeping the country’s military’s hands tied, given the destruction it brought down on their heads in the last century.
From a U.S. point of view, the issue is complex. America wouldn’t mind seeing a stronger Japanese military, backed by the large Japanese economy, to help keep China in check. Some Americans wonder why, 70 years after World War II, the United States is still maintaining bases in Japan, at great cost to the United States and with great savings to Japan.
Yet the U.S. government is content to have bases and troops on the spot in East Asia. A re-militarized Japan would make not only China but also U.S. ally South Korea nervous.
It is understandable that Mr. Abe would like to spread Japan’s wings further in the region. At the same time, given domestic constraints and the ambivalent U.S. position, it is unlikely that the Japanese will change their constitution.