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The government appears to be on the verge of expediting a bill that would give it permanent authority to send Self-Defense Forces on postconflict missions abroad.

“We plan to draw up general principles first, and then draft a law,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Thursday. “If the Diet allows, we would like to do it as early as possible.”

Fukuda’s remarks suggest such a bill could be submitted to the next ordinary session, which convenes in January.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has already said Japan should consider enacting a permanent law instead of passing special legislation each time a global trouble spot beckons the country’s armed forces.

The idea is supported by lawmakers who argue that more flexibility and speed in decision-making are needed, and Fukuda’s comments clearly set the course for drafting such a law.

“We need to have a firm principle on how the SDF operates overseas,” Fukuda said. “Otherwise, we will not be able to gain the understanding of the international community.”

The Peacekeeping Operation Law enacted in 1992 allows the dispatch of SDF troops overseas. But such dispatches are sanctioned only when U.N. peacekeeping operations are based in a host country.

Since there is no U.N. peacekeeping mission in place in Iraq, the Diet is currently debating a law that would enable SDF units to help in postwar reconstruction efforts there. If passed, as seems likely, the law would expire four years later.

Another SDF-dispatch law, the 2001 antiterrorism law, allows the SDF to provide logistic support for the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in and around Afghanistan. But this law is nearing its two-year limit.

“We need to make specific rules (in the permanent law) for not only sending SDF personnel abroad but also for dispatching civilians,” Fukuda said.

He presented this view to the House of Councilors’ committee on foreign affairs and defense issues earlier in the day.