Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera indicated Saturday that he will consider rearranging the ministry’s so-called defense officers posted in Japanese embassies to enhance its intelligence-gathering operations abroad.
Following the recent attack on a natural gas complex in Algeria that killed 10 Japanese citizens, some members of Liberal Democratic Party-led government have proposed increasing the number of these officers, who specialize in collecting information and are stationed in Japanese embassies.
This request reflects the difficulty the government faced in obtaining information about the Japanese nationals believed to have been taken hostage by an Islamic militant group at the remote gas processing plant in Algeria, deep in the Sahara Desert.
“Raising the number of these officers at embassies would increase expenditures,” Onodera told reporters. “We will first consider an efficient way to allocate those who are currently available, and request an increase (in their number) only when we judge it necessary.”
However, Onodera noted that “the current arrangement seems to still reflect the geopolitical situation during the Cold War,” and conceded that “we need to slightly increase the number of these officers in Africa and Latin America.”
Of the ministry’s 49 such officers posted overseas as of January 2011, 16 were stationed in Europe, two in Africa and none in Central and South America.
Onodera also suggested that the current restrictions on the use of weapons by Self-Defense Forces personnel may have to be relaxed. At present, SDF troops are limited to using their weapons only in cases of legitimate self-defense and for a limited number of other specific purposes.
“If the government pushes for an amendment, it would be necessary to also take into account related matters — such as the restrictions on weapons” currently imposed on SDF personnel, Onodera said.
His remarks come as calls mount for the law governing the operations of the SDF to be amended to expand the scope of its operations abroad, including the transportation of Japanese citizens during emergencies like the Algerian hostage ordeal.