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Japan’s Abe seeks more active military role

Abe wants legislation this year to lift a ban on the military fighting overseas to help allies under attack

Published: Updated:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the possibility of a more active role for his country’s military, namely being able to rescue citizens abroad, Reuters news agency reported.

His remarks come a day after Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants said they beheaded Kenji Goto, a veteran war reporter after efforts to secure his release reached a deadlock. The militant group had killed another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa a week earlier.

Abe, who has long pushed for a more muscular security stance, wants legislation this year to lift a ban on the military fighting overseas to help allies under attack. Known as collective self-defense, the change would be the biggest military policy shift since Japan’s armed forces were reassembled 60 years ago after its World War Two defeat.

“Preserving the safety of Japanese nationals is the responsibility of the government, and I am the person who holds the most responsibility,” Abe told a parliamentary committee, adding that he wanted to discuss a framework for rescuing Japanese in danger.

The premier reiterated his denunciation of the militants and said Japan was firmly committed to fulfilling its responsibility as a member of the global community in fighting terrorism and that it needed to be able to protect its citizens.

Easing of pacifist laws

Scope for the military to mount rescue missions is limited by the post-World War Two pacifist constitution, but the government already plans to submit revisions to parliament to ease restrictions.

Even some advocates of changes to make rescues possible, however, say Japan’s military faces difficulty in acquiring the capacity to conduct such missions. Critics say sending troops overseas would just increase the risk.

An internal briefing paper for top government officials, seen by Reuters last week, said cases like the ISIS crisis did not meet proposed conditions for Japan to send troops to join allies in combat.

It dodged the question of whether planned legal changes would allow rescue missions in such cases, but a Japanese defense official said it would not.

Abe’s government had put high priority on saving Goto, who was captured when he went to Syria to try to seek Yukawa’s release.

Goto’s wife, Rinko, who had appealed for his release, said she and the rest of the family were devastated.

“I remain extremely proud of my husband, who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria,” she said in a statement posted on the Rory Peck Trust, a London-based organization supporting freelance journalists.

“It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war.”

[With Reuters]