A n advisory panel to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has completed a report calling for a review of Japan’s defense-only security policy. The report, by the Forum on Security and Defense Capability, says Japan should have a “multifunctional, flexible defense force” to meet security threats such as terrorism, missile attacks and organized crime. It also states that “international peace cooperation activities” by the Self-Defense Forces are their primary duty.

Based on this report, the government is to draw up, by the end of November, a new National Defense Program Outline setting guidelines for the next midterm defense-buildup plan. In formulating the new outline, however, the government must pay due respect to the pacifist principles of the Constitution, which renounces the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

The report begins by stating, correctly, that security in the 21st century acquired a new dimension on Sept. 11, 2001, when attacks by “nonstate terrorists” on U.S. symbols of power debunked the traditional notion that threats to national security came only from states. In the post-9/11 world, the assumption is that states face serious threats from “nonstate entities” such as terrorist groups.

Still, the report raises deep concerns for two reasons. The first is that it calls for a change to the traditional concept of “basic defense capability,” or maintaining the minimum defense force necessary to counter localized, small-scale attacks. This concept has defined the nation’s security policy since 1976 when the first National Defense Program Outline was adopted.

In other words, the basic idea is that Japan must be prepared for all kinds of security threats. This general but limited approach to national defense has curbed efforts for a major buildup and thus avoided creating unnecessary tensions with neighboring countries. Although the policy of meeting “state threats” was the product of detente in the Cold War era, there seems to be no compelling reason now to abandon it entirely.

In fact, the report, while playing down the need for the conventional approach, says the concept of basic defense capability should be kept intact wherever it is useful. At the same time, however, it says the SDF should be developed into a “multifunctional, flexible defense force” so that it can deal with a variety of threats, not just threats from sovereign states.

A second cause for concern is that the SDF’s growing international role is emphasized, raising constitutional questions. Participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations and other “peace cooperation activities” is currently defined as auxiliary duty. The report, however, identifies them as a primary duty, saying current ad hoc legislation authorizing SDF dispatches abroad should be made permanent.

Peace cooperation activities have increased both in scale and scope since the early 1990s. The fact remains, though, that the SDF is constitutionally prohibited from using force except for self-defense. For this reason, many Japanese are skeptical about the legality of sending SDF troops on missions that might put them in harm’s way. Yet the report proposes a study of whether to expand the scope of deployment to include policing activities, in addition to humanitarian and reconstruction work, and logistic support.

As might be expected, the common thread running through the report is a policy of bolstering the Japan-U.S. alliance. This is clear from the proposals to ease the arms export ban for promoting a joint missile-defense program and to create a “rapid decision-making mechanism” that will make a Cabinet decision unnecessary for intercepting hostile missiles. Cooperation with America is important, but not unlimited.

In effect, the report endorses the policy being pursued by Mr. Koizumi and his closest ally, U.S. President George W. Bush. The reality on the ground, however, is not encouraging. The world, Japan included, is not safer despite, or rather because of, the military-first U.S. campaign against terrorism. Mr. Koizumi’s staunch support for Bush has caused more anxiety than a sense of security among the Japanese people.

It is reassuring, though, that the report also expresses doubt about the usefulness of military force. In its closing chapter, it says: “Looking at the frequent acts of terrorism, we cannot but feel that there are limits to hard power”; and “It may be difficult to resolve complex ethnic conflicts and religious strifes, as well as various inequalities, through confrontation with force.”

We could not agree more. Indeed, contributing to regional and global stability through “soft power” — diplomatic efforts and economic cooperation in particular — is a fitting goal for Japanese security policy in the 21st century.

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