November 17, 2017

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How Will the Hostage Crisis Affect the Constitutional Reforms?

How will the recent hostage crisis affect Abe’s pursuit of Constitutional reforms? There are two ways to see this. One way is that the incident made it more difficult for Abe to amend the Constitution. People who oppose reforming the constitution say that if Japan alters its Constitution, then Japan would become a target for terrorism. This claim was made by many people long before the most recent incident took place. For example, Professor Kenji Isesaki at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (who participated in UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization and Reorientation program in many countries including Sierra Leone and Afghanistan) argues that because Japan must be neutral under the Constitution, peacekeeping activities by Japanese people have been accepted by residents of war torn countries. If Japan changes its Constitution, it makes it more difficult for Japanese NGOs to work in these countries since it makes it difficult for them to gain the trust of local people. He pointed out the possibility of Japanese civilians being attacked by terrorists. For those who support constitutional reforms, the hostage crisis represents their concerns becoming reality.

There is another way to see this issue. Since the incident demonstrated the possibility that Japanese citizens could be terrorist targets, it empowers Prime Minister Abe’s pursuit of militarization. There is currently a plan to create a National Defense Force, and one of the duties of that force would be to rescue Japanese nationals both in foreign countries and in Japan. During a budgetary committee meeting on February 3, Abe said that the reason he thinks constitutional reform is necessary is to protect the lives and property of Japanese citizens. Abe has indicated that he is also willing to extend the capacity of the current Self Defense Force, so that it can perform duties in foreign countries. However, in order to grand this ability to the SDF, it requires amending the Self Defense Force Act. Abe decided to work towards alteration of SDF Act, but there are those in LDP who oppose this. Moreover, even if the SDF Act was amended before the hostage crisis took place earlier this month, SDF was not able to act to rescue, because it requires the consent of the country that occupies the region.

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