The passage of the new security laws over strong public objection satisfies long-standing U.S. desires for Japan to be more of a regional military player and will strengthen defense cooperation with countries like Australia.

But domestic political concerns and worries about relations with China and South Korea are likely to place constraints on just how far Japan goes in actually expanding its military presence, Japanese and foreign experts say.

"The most tangible result of the new laws will likely be closer coordination between the Self-Defense Forces, the U.S. military, and other militaries in the region," says Tobias Harris, a senior associate at Teneo Intelligence in Washington, D.C., and an expert on Japanese politics. "The new laws raise the ceiling for the SDF to conduct potentially lethal operations overseas, but they by no means obligate the SDF to come to the aid of allies or participate in coalitions."