Abe, the radical
Nominally conservative, Abe’s political career has been devoted to an extraordinarily radical agenda, nothing less than revision of all three of the country’s basic charters: the Constitution (1946), the Fundamental Law of Education (1947) and Ampo (the 1951/1960 security treaty with the United States). He aspires to ‘liquidate the post-war regime’ and replace it with a ‘new’ and ‘beautiful’ Japan.
Abe’s party has from its inception in 1955 been committed to revising the constitution, especially Article 9, the declaration of state pacifism. The current LDP draft constitution (of 2012) widens state prerogatives while narrowing citizen rights and transforms the existing Self-Defense Forces into a ‘national defence army’. But overt revision has never been politically feasible given the strength of public opposition. Abe has chafed especially under the constraint that all previous governments had accepted—that Japan might possess an ‘inherent’ right to collective self-defence, but the constitution ruled out its exercise. On the eve of his Australian visit Abe’s cabinet disposed of this problem by simply adopting a new interpretation, reversing the restrictive interpretation and freeing Japan’s forces for future global missions. The Japan that under its constitution from 1947 to 2014 could not go to war now can.
The evasion of constitutional principle by the simple device of reinterpretation, praised by Abbott and by the Obama government, was widely seen in Japan as a constitutional coup-d‘etat. It was in keeping with Deputy Prime Minister Aso Taro’s encomium (in a speech to party faithful on 29 July 2013) that Japan should learn from the Hitler example, the people in Germany simply waking one morning to find that their constitution no longer meant what they had thought it did. The New York Times editorialised that Japan was ‘facing a genuine test of its democracy’.
As for education, in his first term Abe succeeded in revising the Fundamental Law of Education, making it an educational requirement that schools promote ‘love of country’. Early in 2014, Abe’s Education Ministry announced that moral education was henceforth to be given a core part in the school curriculum and that history, geography and civics texts for junior and senior high schools would, from April 2016, have to ‘reflect the government’s official position on contentious historical issues’.
As for the security treaty with the United States, revision in 1960 caused such political turmoil that it has not been formally revised since then. Instead, however, de facto revision has been unceasing and fundamental, in accord with high-level governmental and inter-governmental understandings, including the National Defense Guidelines (1978, 1997 and forthcoming 2014) and the 2005–06 Agreements on ‘Transformation and Realignment’ of US forces in Japan. The fullest expression of the Abe security stance is expected to come in the late-2014 National Security Guidelines, but it is indicative that he has already opened the door to the export of Japanese weapons, established a National Security Council that concentrates power in his office, passed a ‘secrets protection’ law that prescribes draconian penalties for whistleblowers and investigative journalists and reminds some of the infamous 1925 ‘Peace Preservation Law’, is planning or constructing new Japanese bases in the far-southwestern islands of Amami, Miyako, Ishigaki and Yonaguni, and is working on plans to establish Japanese versions of the CIA and the US Marine Corps.
Australia has no known stance on educational policy, but it has long favoured constitutional revision and a ‘normal state’ (‘strong’ and war capable) agenda for Japan. The fact that Abe takes aim in particular at Japan’s democratic, citizen-based and anti-militarist elements, preferring instead a paradoxical mix of the Shintoist, the American, the beautiful and the new, seems not to have registered in the Australian consciousness.
Though Abe offends and worries the United States on many fronts, his redeeming quality is the enthusiasm he brings to the security agenda, implementing a substantial military build-up, merging with and functionally subordinating Japan’s military to that of the United States and building major new facilities for the Marine Corps in Northern Okinawa (as well as, more recently, in US territory (Guam and the Marianas)). For the cash-strapped Pentagon the prospect of such largesse,and of a 225,000-person subsidiary force, all costs met by Japan, well-trained and -equipped and ready for action on the Pentagon’s behalf under ‘collective self-defence’ principles in future wars, is irresistible.