Under new leader, Japan may lift ban on troops overseas

Prime minister seeks to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions

April 08, 2000

TOYOKO — TOKYO -- For the first time since World War II, a Japanese prime minister suggested to parliament yesterday that this nominally pacifist nation could soon end its ban on sending troops overseas.

In his inaugural speech to the Diet, new Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said his government may propose legislation that would allow Japanese soldiers to carry weapons abroad and take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Japanese forces might also be permitted to take action against ships that violate Japan's territorial waters.

Couching his words carefully on a sensitive issue here, Mori said the legislation would fulfill part of the agenda of his predecessor Keizo Obuchi, who remains comatose in a Tokyo hospital after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage Sunday.

Increased tensions possible

A more forceful Japanese military posture could increase tensions with North Korea and China, both of which have sent warships or spy ships into or near Japanese water, and set off alarms in East Asia, where memories of Japanese imperialism run deep.

Japan's constitution, written by U.S. occupation forces after World War II, renounces war and forbids the use of Japanese troops for all but defensive measures.

In recent years, there have been growing calls within Japan for its soldiers to act more like those of other nations, and Japanese participation in multilateral peacekeeping has been viewed as a way to move gingerly in that direction.

No promises from Obuchi

Under Obuchi, parliament may have been moving toward eliminating Article 9, on Japanese use of force, from the constitution. The chief policymakers of the three political parties in Japan's ruling coalition agreed in principle last month to scrap the ban on deploying Japan's Self-Defense Forces overseas. But Obuchi never promised to act on the proposals.

Mori devoted most of the speech to promising to carry out Obuchi's plans for Japan's sagging economy and administrative reform. He said a major goal of his government would be to create a nation that "engenders the trust of the rest of the world."

Not known for strong views on domestic or foreign policy, Mori tried to assure the nation that he would carry out Obuchi's legacy and "not hesitate to carry out reform." But he indicated that he would not shy away from strengthening Japan's military posture.

"Contributing to the maintenance of international security is an important task for Japan," Mori said. "I intend to further advance Japan's cooperation in United Nations peacekeeping activities."

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