WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Article 9 of the Constitution and Tokyo’s interpretation of it restrict close defense cooperation between Japan and the United States, a recent U.S. congressional report says.

According to the “The U.S.-Japan Alliance,” a report compiled Jan. 18 by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, in a situation involving North Korea, the Self-Defense Forces could not respond to a missile attack if the U.S. side were targeted, although the two countries have been integrating their missile defense operations.

In a section subtitled “Constitutional and Legal Constraints,” the report calls Article 9 “the most prominent and fundamental” of all legal factors that “could restrict Japan’s ability to cooperate more robustly with the United States.”

It also says Japan’s 1960 interpretation that the Constitution forbids collective self-defense “is also considered an obstacle to close defense cooperation.”

“As the United States and Japan increasingly integrate missile defense operation, the ban on collective self-defense . . . raises questions about how Japanese commanders will gauge whether American forces or Japan itself is being targeted,” it says, adding, “Under the current interpretation, Japanese forces could not respond if the United States were attacked.”

During a visit to China in January, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said North Korea could pose a “direct threat” to the United States in five years or less as it “will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile within that time frame.”

The report says former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had spoken about the need to reconsider legal restrictions but efforts to alter the interpretation stalled after his resignation in 2007.

Referring to the divided Diet, where the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition does not control the Upper House, the report says, “Tokyo has struggled to advance national security issues that would help to improve the alliance relationship.”

It adds, “Ambitious plans like amending Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, passing a law that would allow for a more streamlined dispatch of Japanese troops, or altering the current interpretation of collective self-defense are far more difficult to accomplish, given the political gridlock.”

New common goals

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Japan and the United States held a high-level meeting Thursday to discuss new common strategic goals as part of efforts to deepen the security alliance, sources said.

The meeting in Washington drew director general-level defense and foreign officials following late-January talks at the deputy director general level.

Besides the strategic goals, Thursday’s meeting is also believed to have taken up China’s growing military presence, the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the relocation of the Futenma military base in Okinawa, to lay the groundwork for a two-plus-two meeting involving the defense and foreign ministers of both countries.

The participants of the meeting may have also taken up bilateral cooperation toward stable use of space and cyberspace as they are expected to be included in a set of fresh common strategic goals.

The renewal of the common strategic goals, which were originally set in February 2005, was confirmed by Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a meeting in Tokyo in January.

The update will likely be reflected in a new vision for the bilateral relationship when Prime Minister Naoto Kan visits the U.S., probably in June after the two-plus-two meeting, to meet with President Barack Obama.

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