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The Defense Agency is considering creating a standing unit of the Self-Defense Forces dedicated to peacekeeping, antiterrorism and other overseas operations, agency officials said Tuesday.

The move to set up what is tentatively referred to as an international contribution corps is in line with an earlier suggestion by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that Japan enact a permanent law authorizing SDF missions abroad, including those not under U.N. auspices, the officials said.

Under a two-year law, SDF overseas activities are limited to joining U.N. peacekeeping operations and providing humanitarian assistance, as well as helping with logistic support in the Arabian Sea as part of the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

It takes the agency several weeks to deploy troops once Japan has decided to take part in peacekeeping operations.

The officials said a standing special corps would allow Tokyo to respond promptly to the requirements of the international community.

One of the ideas being proposed is to gather up to several hundred personnel each from the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces and establish a central command, they said.

A total of 1,900 SDF personnel are currently on missions abroad, including peacekeeping operations in East Timor and the Golan Heights.

The agency also has an eye on registering the proposed unit with the U.N. Standby Arrangements System, according to the officials. While 75 countries are parties to the system, Japan has never been a part, the Foreign Ministry said.

The Defense Agency plans to make international peacekeeping one of the SDF’s main duties when the 1995 National Defense Program Outline is updated, possibly by the end of this year, the officials said.

It intends to incorporate the planned unit into the outline.

The ideas may spur controversy in the Diet, as the opposition camp is opposed to a four-year bill sponsored by the ruling block to send the SDF to Iraq to help with the war-torn nation’s reconstruction.

The idea of Japan drawing up a readily available SDF unit for international peace efforts was proposed by an advisory panel to the chief Cabinet secretary chaired by former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi in a report in December.

Bureaucratic loss The government will delete wording in an annual defense report that has been interpreted as meaning Defense Agency bureaucrats have precedence over Self-Defense Forces generals as part of civilian control of the armed forces, sources said Tuesday.

Until last year, the annual report said an administrative vice minister assists the chief of the Defense Agency and supervises administration, and bureau chief-level counselors assist the agency head in formulating basic polices relating to the SDF.

Then it said, “The system of civilian control of the military has been established as described.”

The sources said the 2003 report will no longer have the wording stipulating the roles of an administrative vice minister and agency directors general, both bureaucrats, in connection with civilian control.

With the change, the only civilians who will have direct power over top SDF officers will be politicians — the Defense Agency chief and deputy chief, and two parliamentary secretaries.

The agency’s Internal Bureau and high-ranking SDF officers have long been at odds over the wording, according to the sources.

The bureau wanted to leave the wording untouched, but top SDF brass called for its deletion.

According to the sources, the change made to the report comes against the backdrop of bigger roles recently played by the SDF, including peacekeeping operations and support for antiterrorism activities carried out by other countries.

Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba has said SDF officers need to provide more military advice to politicians as professionals.

The 2003 white paper, scheduled to be adopted by the Cabinet in early August, will provide updates on the international military situation as well as national defense policy, and a description of future roles of the agency and the SDF, according to the agency.