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Japan to Pursue More Active Military Role

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January 24, 2013

Japan's government will soon consider a change to the way its armed forces operate, with an eye toward more protection of Japanese citizens in the wake of a terrorist attack in Algeria.

The attack, at a gas plant in Algeria, resulted in the taking of hostages from several countries and was then followed by a raid in which dozens of people, including nine from Japan, were killed. Japanese troops did not take part in the raid because they are prohibited from doing so by law. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, passed after the end of World War II, includes the words "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

Since the 1950s, Japan has maintained the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) but has rarely sent it overseas. Notable exceptions are the multinational force assembled in the Middle East after Iraq's takeover of Kuwait in 1990 and a few United Nations peacekeeping missions since the mid-1990s.

The Algeria attack likely accelerated the Japanese government's plan for changing the Self Defense Force Law to allow troops to assume more active roles in military missions. New Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has punctuated his return to power by proposing an increase in defense spending, the first in quite some time. Sentiment has also been growing in Japan for a tougher role in the ongoing dispute over ownership of a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Such actions will likely concern the governments and peoples of China, North Korea, South Korea, and other countries ruled by Japan during the early and mid-20th Century. But Abe and others have emphasized that although they are proposing changes to the spirit of Article 9, they are not proposing to revoke it. Japan, an import economy, depends on its neighbors and its allies to buy its goods.

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