Newspaper Urges Changes in Japan's Constitution : Asia: The step breaks a taboo on advocating revisions. Nuclear weapons would be explicitly banned.


Japan's largest newspaper today broke a 48-year taboo by urging a sweeping revision of the nation's postwar constitution that would formally ban Japan from possessing nuclear weapons.

Not once since the constitution was promulgated in 1946 during the U.S. occupation has any general newspaper advocated specific proposals for constitutional revision. The press has long avoided the issue, for fear that changes in the charter's "no war" provisions might open the door to Japan again becoming a military giant.

The Yomiuri newspaper, with a nationwide circulation of 10 million, proposed amending the controversial Article 9, which bans the establishment of armed forces, to allow the nation to possess troops "to secure its peace and independence."

Over the years, political interpretations of the ban have caused ceaseless controversy over the constitutionality of Japan's 239,000-strong Self Defense Forces. Only in August did Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's Socialist Party recognize the Self Defense Forces as constitutional.

The Yomiuri's proposed amendment would retain a declaration that "the Japanese people shall never recognize war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." The proposal also goes further than post-World War II Japanese politicians ever have in committing Japan to an eternal non-nuclear defense policy.

"Seeking to eliminate from the world inhuman and indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction, Japan shall not manufacture, possess or use such weapons," states the Yomiuri's proposed "no war" provision.

Until now, Japan has pledged, but only as a political policy, not to manufacture, possess or allow the introduction into its territory of nuclear weapons.

"Americans continually argue that Japan would build nuclear weapons if North Korea constructed a nuclear arsenal, and refuse to believe Japanese who say Japan will not go nuclear under any circumstance," said a Yomiuri editor who asked not to be named. "This provision should end that argument."

The proposed ban on "inhuman and indiscriminate weapons" includes nuclear, chemical and biological armaments and any such weapons that might be created in the future, the Yomiuri explained.

The new "no war" provision also would forbid the state to conscript citizens for service in the armed forces, making permanent Japan's current practice of voluntary military service.

The Yomiuri's proposed charter would authorize the state to dispatch both civilians and troops overseas, but only for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions approved by "internationally recognized institutions" such as the United Nations. The provision is intended to end "one-nation pacifism, a self-centered mentality involving a desire for peace for Japan and indifference to the fate of the rest of the world," the newspaper said.

The unprecedented move after two years of internal debate by Japan's largest newspaper is certain to stir a new constitutional debate.

With amendments requiring approval by two-thirds of the members of Parliament as well as a majority of voters in a referendum, chances of changing the basic charter in the near future appear remote. However, the Yomiuri reported in April that 50.4% of people surveyed in an opinion poll that it carried out supported constitutional revision.

The Yomiuri's proposals also call for the establishment of a constitutional court, relieving the Supreme Court of its seldom-used power to rule on issues of constitutionality, as well as greater powers for the upper house of Parliament. A new human right--the right to privacy--also was proposed.

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