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Japan should use its Self-Defense Forces to contribute to world peace and stability, Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba said Wednesday.

“I think there are ways to make use of the Self-Defense Forces other than in the exercise of the right to self-defense,” Ishiba, 46, told The Japan Times in an interview. Ishiba is currently preparing for a planned dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq.

International cooperation activities are described under the 1954 Self-Defense Forces law as a secondary role of the SDF. Such activities may be conducted “as long as they do not hinder the task of national defense.”

The government apparently entered the final phase of its preparations for sending SDF units to Iraq after a fact-finding team to the country returned to Japan on Thursday.

Ishiba said the role of the SDF in Iraq is “becoming focused.”

The SDF is expected to help with “water and medical supply and the reconstruction of damaged buildings,” Ishiba said, adding that “the repair of ports is not a high priority.”

He said some provinces of Iraq that have not seen attacks on U.S. occupation forces were mentioned in the mission’s report as “stable areas” in which the SDF could operate.

The dispatch of SDF units “may or may not be made within this year, depending on whether conditions required under the (Iraq-reconstruction) law are met,” he said.

Japan enacted a law in 1992 to enable the SDF to participate in United Nations peacekeeping activities. Since then, the SDF has engaged in U.N.-authorized peacekeeping operations in seven countries.

But in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the government created a new law and expanded the the SDF’s role to include logistic support of the U.S.-led forces fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

If the SDF is sent to Iraq under the new law, which was pushed through the Diet in late July, it will mark the further expansion of Japan’s military role overseas.

“I think we should discuss and consider how Japan can act to meet the post-9/11 environment,” Ishiba said.

The new role of Japan’s military could include participation in an international hunt for weapons of mass destruction and working to deter pirates, he said.

The SDF could also be sent overseas to participate in multilateral forces “if the mission is within the framework of the Constitution and there is a law to permit it.”

A Defense Agency panel tasked with reviewing the nation’s defense stance is debating these new roles. Ishiba said the panel’s decisions will be reflected in an ongoing review of the nation’s basic defense program.

The panel is also discussing reforms to better deal with new threats such as terrorism and ballistic missile attacks.

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