Japan Beefs Up Its Defense Stance ; with an Eye to North Korea and China, Prime Minister Koizumi's Cabinet Is Set to Pass New Guidelines Friday

By Bennett Richardson Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Japan Beefs Up Its Defense Stance ; with an Eye to North Korea and China, Prime Minister Koizumi's Cabinet Is Set to Pass New Guidelines Friday


Bennett Richardson Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Japan's Cabinet is set to approve Friday new defense guidelines that will allow the nation's troops to participate more actively in the international arena in the face of regional tensions and in response to such threats as terrorism.

The outline, which will be the framework for the nation's defense policy for the next 10 years, highlights North Korea as a significant destabilizing factor in East Asia, names China as a potential threat, and opens the possibility of Japan relaxing its ban on arms exports.

Coming less than a year after Japanese forces were sent to Iraq on their first mission since World War II to a nation where armed conflict was still continuing, the guidelines mark another step away from Japan's exclusively defense-oriented security policy of the past.

The change, say analysts, has been prompted by increased militarization in Japan's neighborhood, the desire of Washington for greater help in its defense partnership with Japan, and a calculation by Tokyo that it could advance foreign policy aims better if it could bring some military contributions - not just dollar diplomacy - to the table.

While Japan has been "trying to strengthen its regional preparedness in the last few years, the government has also emphasized that the eventual aim is to integrate ... states like China and North Korea into the circle [of nations that] uphold liberal values," says Hiromi Nagata, an expert on Japanese security policy at the University of London.

The review marks only the second overhaul of Japan's defense policy since the end of the cold war, and comes as the Japanese Cabinet decided Thursday to extend the deployment of the nation's Self-Defense Forces to Iraq by another year. The decision was reached despite polls showing public opposition to the move at around 65 percent.

Ms. Nagata says the public may come to support the extension of the humanitarian mission in the future in the same manner that Japanese participation in UN peacekeeping operations was gradually accepted.

Earlier plans to extend the SDF mission in Iraq included provisions to increase the number of troops beyond the almost 600 now stationed in Samawah, Iraq. This idea now appears to have been quietly abandoned in the face of public opposition, and the government plans to revise the basic plan for the deployment to provide leeway for the possibility of an early withdrawal. The security situation may become more difficult after March when the Dutch forces who provide armed protection for the Japanese are set to leave Iraq.

The new guidelines show that Japan is eager to play a more active role in maintaining international security, but also show that tight government finances may thwart the newfound ambitions.

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