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New Defense Policy Cautiously Adjusts to New Realities

Sunday, December 12, 2004 Posted: 06:33 AM JST

Japan unveiled a new defense policy on Friday that shows a cautious shift away from Japan's post-war pacifism. The country plans to increase global military cooperation and improve its ability to respond to terrorist and missile attacks. But it will not adopt nuclear weapons or a preemptive strike capability, a change that would seriously worry its neighbors.

"Abiding by the basic principle under Japan's constitution, our country, devoting itself entirely to self-defense, will never threaten other countries or become a military power," the government said in the new National Defense Program Outline.

However, many analysts believe this may change in the future. "I think that's inevitable, because it's a basic requirement of modern warfare," said Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor for Jane's Defense Weekly in Bangkok in an interview with Associated Press.

As in its previous new defense policy of ten years ago Japan sees its alliance with the United States as the basis of its security. It plans to expand this cooperation by creating a joint missile defense system. Although Japan has been acquiring technology to detect missiles it will rely on the United States for defending it against nuclear attacks. Preparations for this started earlier this year. To facilitate the joint production of this new missile shield, the country has eased a blanket ban on arms exports, by allowing trade with the United States. It will however retain the ban on most other weapons exports.

The new missile defense system is mainly in response to North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. The country deeply shocked Japan in 1998 when without warning it launched a ballistic missile over Japan that landed in the Pacific Ocean. At the time Japan was not even able to detect the missile, let alone defend itself against a missile attack.

"North Korea has been developing, deploying and proliferating weapons of mass destruction and it possesses large-scale special units," the government said Friday. "North Korea's military activities are a major destabilizing factor in the region."

Japan is also worried about China's growing military and economic might. The country has been modernizing its nuclear and missile capabilities as well as its naval and air forces. Last month a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine intruded into Japanese waters, an incident that caused much anxiety in Japan. Tension between the two countries has been growing the past few years and several Japanese lawmakers have publicly called China a military threat.

The government said it will cut defense spending over the next five years by 3.7 percent to 24.24 trillion yen ($232 billion) and set a maximum troop level of 155,000 including 7,000 reservists. This is down from the current level of 160,000.

Japan's constitution includes a clause that prevents it from having a military or waging war, but it has been interpreted as allowing the country to have military forces to defend itself. In the past few years the Japanese government has been reinterpreting the clause by sending peace-keeping troops to countries in Asia and most recently to Iraq. The new National Defense Program Outline continues this trend. It offers no revolutionary changes in Japan's basic stance although it makes it easier for Japan to do so in the future.

Keywords: national_news

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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