Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a historic stride Thursday toward his long-held ambition of transforming Japan's pacifist defense policy, ordering the ruling parties to launch talks on removing the self-imposed ban on using the right to collective self-defense.

Abe's crusade to remove it has fanned fears and anxieties among critics at home and abroad who believe the move is the first step toward scrapping the pacifist stance that has guided Japan under the postwar Constitution.

"Japan would be allowed to become a warring party even if it is not directly attacked. This would be a very big change in value judgment" for the Japanese government, said Miho Aoi, a law professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.