A private advisory panel of experts for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has started discussions on a new defense program outline, which will serve as the basic guidelines for the nation’s defense policy. The coming defense program outline will be the fourth, following those adopted in 1976, 1995 and 2004.

On Aug. 4, a predecessor panel under then Prime Minister Taro Aso proposed, among other things, to change the interpretation of Article 9 so that Japan can shoot down North Korean missiles launched at the United States and that the Maritime Self-Defense Force can directly protect U.S. naval ships during a contingency and to modify the principle of not allowing export of weapons. The current administration shelved the panel’s proposals.

The new panel will have to assess Japan’s security environment, including China’s rapid military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. It will also have to discuss proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and measures to cope with terrorism, piracy and large-scale disasters.

The focus will be the defense posture of China, which is modernizing intermediate-range ballistic missiles, expanding its naval power — including enlargement of its submarine fleet — and improving cyber and space attack capabilities. The panel is also likely to discuss making flexible the principles governing the Self-Defense Forces’ participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The Hatoyama administration has not disclosed basic principles for its defense policy. As 50 years have passed since the signing of the current security treaty with the U.S., one of the panel’s tasks should be to redefine the roles of the Japan-U.S. alliance and discuss how it should function.

But in doing so, the panel should pay due respect to the traditional principles such as the defense-only posture, the nonnuclear principle, the prohibition of weapons exports and civilian control of the SDF, which have derived from the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution. The panel should work out a basic direction for attaining restrained but effective defense capabilities under these principles.

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