Ex-legal adviser warns Japan against bypassing Article 9 amendment

A former head of Japan's legislative advisory body warned the government Thursday against bypassing amendment of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to lift a self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.

Masahiro Sakata, who headed the Cabinet Legislation Bureau between 2004 and 2006, lashed out at the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for trying to change the long-held interpretation of Article 9 to lift the ban without holding a referendum to revise the supreme law.

"The government should observe due process if it wants to make such a major policy change so the people have a chance to say yes or no," Sakata told a press conference.

Abe is aiming to change the current interpretation of the Constitution so the Self-Defense Forces can defend allies under armed attack. He has said Cabinet approval would suffice to alter that interpretation.

"The interpretation (of the Constitution) should be consistent and logical," Sakata said. "Over the past 60 years or so, Diet debate on the Constitution has largely focused on Article 9, and that carries a lot of importance."

The Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which gives legal advice to the Cabinet, has been influential in deciding how to interpret the Constitution.

Past governments have maintained that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it due to the limitations of Article 9, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes and only allows the minimum for self-defense.

Sakata said Japan needs to take more time in discussing whether and why the exercise of the right of collective self-defense is necessary.

"There will be no turning back even if we say 'It wasn't supposed to be like this'" after removing the ban, Sakata said. "I don't think it is the right way to change the interpretation just because it requires time and effort" to amend the Constitution.

Article 96 of the Constitution stipulates any initiative to revise the supreme law must be supported by at least two-thirds of each chamber of the Diet before it can be put to a national referendum.