Enhanced role for Japan's military urged

TOKYO – In the wake of the killing of two Japanese hostages in the Middle East, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pressed for Japan’s armed forces to be given a more proactive role on the world stage, local media reported Monday.

Abe wants Japan’s military to operate under a collective self-defense policy that would allow them to defend an ally even when Japan itself is not under attack.

The deaths of Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto illustrated Japan’s impotence and have bolstered calls for the armed forces to be given greater rein and ease the restrictions imposed by the country’s pacifist constitution.

Kyodo news agency reported Abe as saying Monday that Japan should not impose prior limits on where its Self-Defense Forces can be dispatched to defend allies.

"It's not about whether we can apply [collective self-defense] because the location is near or we shouldn't out of geographical considerations," Abe told the Japanese Diet’s budget committee.

Since the hostage crisis emerged on Jan. 20 there have been increased calls for Japan to allow its forces to rescue Japanese nationals in danger abroad. Currently, the Self-Defense Forces can only transport rescued Japanese.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of coalition partner Komeito, told reporters Monday that Japan needs a "calm and wide-ranging" debate.

Abe’s cabinet made a landmark decision last July to reinterpret Japan's pacifist constitution but fresh legislation is needed and the government is expected to submit a series of bills to the Diet before June, Kyodo reported.

The current constitution, drawn up after World War II, only allows the use force to defend Japan.

Abe has been trying to expand the scope of military operations, saying Japan should make a proactive contribution to global security.

On Monday he pledged Japan would boost non-military support in the Middle East.

But, he added: "We will never take part in air strikes. We are not considering giving logistics support."

Meanwhile, criticism of the government over the handling of the hostage crisis has mounted.

“I wonder whether the government has been able to grasp the scope of the situation from the beginning to the end,” Mikio Haruna, a Waseda University professor, tolds the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Yukawa, 42, a defense contractor, went missing in Syria in August 2014, followed by freelance journalist Goto, 47, in October.

On Jan. 17, Abe gave a speech in Cairo in which he pledged support to countries opposing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It has been suggested that Abe’s speech was either misinterpreted as referring to military support or seized on by the militants as a way of using the hostages.

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