George W. Bush’s re-election to another four years in the White House will ensure that strengthening the U.S. security alliance with Japan remains a major component of bilateral ties.

Government officials and experts watching Tokyo-Washington relations say Japan’s role in the alliance will probably increase.

“Washington might boost its request for overseas dispatches of Self-Defense Forces (elements) in the next four years,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan must soon decide whether to extend the Ground Self-Defense Force’s one-year humanitarian aid mission to the southern Iraq city of Samawah when the troops’ duties expire on Dec. 14.

Iraq’s reconstruction will no doubt be a key theme of Bush’s second term.

Japan could be asked to dispatch more troops to Iraq if Bush should call for wider international cooperation toward reconstruction efforts, said Takashi Inoguchi, a professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo.

Under Bush’s first administration, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expanded the scope of Japan’s security cooperation with the U.S.

Following the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Japan sent Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to the Indian Ocean to provide fuel to support the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.

Koizumi, who steadfastly supported Bush in the war on Iraq, in January dispatched hundreds of GSDF troops to southern Iraq to help rebuild the war-torn country, becoming the first Japanese postwar leader to send troops to a nation still experiencing conflict.

Last week, he refused to pull out the troops as demanded by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists holding a Japanese hostage, whom they later beheaded.

Fumiaki Kubo, a professor on international relations at the University of Tokyo, said Japan’s role in the U.S. alliance needs to be strengthened to a higher level regardless of who is in the White House.

“Terrorist attacks similar to those of 9/11, which are not presumed in the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, might occur again,” Kubo said. “As an ally of the U.S., Japan’s task is to think about what it can do to support the U.S.”

The treaty, which originally took effect in 1951, obliges the United States to defend Japan but not vice versa.

Japan should be allowed to exercise its right of collective defense so it can defend the U.S. when it is under attack, Kubo said, although he admitted there is no Japanese public consensus on this option.

Japan has the right under international law to use force if the U.S. comes under attack, but the government has said the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution bans the country from exercising that right.

Kubo’s argument appears to be shared by a government advisory panel on defense and security that compiled a report last month. In careful wording, the report urged Koizumi to accelerate discussions on the issue of collective defense.

Since the early 1990s, Japan has gradually sought a greater role in international security without touching on the sensitive issue of changing the war-renouncing Constitution.

Talk to amend the Constitution itself is now no longer a political taboo. Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party plans to compile a draft Constitution revision next year, and the Democratic Party of Japan is preparing to issue a counterproposal by 2006.

But while the public may be willing more than ever to see the Constitution amended, they still appear to be split on how.

According to a survey conducted by the daily Asahi Shimbun in May, 53 percent of 3,000 respondents said the Constitution should be revised. But 60 percent of the pollees said the war-renouncing Article 9 should not be changed, compared with 31 percent who said it should.

The same survey showed that the pollees were evenly split on whether Japan should be able to engage in collective defense.

In light of the two post-9/11 major overseas SDF missions, the government is contemplating making international missions a main activity of the Self-Defense Forces, which, as the name suggests, have originally been created strictly for defense of Japan.

But doubts remain if Japan should expand the framework of its alliance with the U.S. to maintain peace in nations that may not have a direct affect on Japan’s security, said Jitsuo Tsuchiyama, a professor of international relations at Aoyama Gakuin University.

Some might say maintaining international peace would reinforce Japan’s security, while others might feel that the SDF should engage only in missions pertaining to Japan’s defense, Tsuchiyama said in noting the lack of public consensus on the issue.

“It remains to be seen whether the government can gain public support for using (SDF troops) by expanding the bilateral alliance to secure not only Japan’s defense but global peace as well,” he said.

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