Japan's Abe calls for greater role for military
TOKYO, Aug 25 (Reuters) Japanese lawmaker Shinzo Abe, widely expected to become the country's next prime minister, said today the military should have a greater role in global security and should increase cooperation with US forces.
Speaking to a gathering of mostly Japanese and US military personnel, Abe called for a permanent law allowing Japanese forces to take part in international cooperation missions overseas, such as humanitarian and reconstruction work.
Japan's pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling disputes but has been interpreted to allow for a standing military strictly to defend the country.
Japan sent about 600 soldiers to Iraq to help the country's rebuilding efforts, but the government had to pass special temporary legislation allowing the dispatch. Japan pulled its troops out in July.
A similar law had to be enacted to allow Japanese navy vessels to provide refueling for ships taking part in US-led operations in the Indian Ocean following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
''The world still faces many uncertainties, and it is important for Japan to play a role in contributing to international efforts amid such a situation,'' Abe, the chief cabinet secretary and top government spokesman, said.
''I think a permanent law is necessary to allow for a quick response,'' he added, referring to overseas missions by Japan's military.
While the Iraq and Indian Ocean missions won praise from Washington, Japan's closest security ally, they came under fire from critics who said they violated the country's constitution.
Abe, known for his hawkish views, also said policy makers need to review the current interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution which bans the Japanese military from coming to the rescue of allied forces if they come under attack.
''If foreign troops working together are attacked, do we have to just stand there and watch?'' he asked.
Abe, who consistently tops public opinion polls of whom voters want to see succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said Japan must work to increase its contribution to the security alliance with Washington.
''We need to further increase reciprocity,'' he said. ''An alliance can only stand when there is trust.'' A poll conducted last week by the Kyodo news agency showed 53 percent of Japanese voters wanted Abe to succeed Koizumi. Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki came in second with 14.8 percent and Foreign Minister Taro Aso a close third with 11.2 percent.
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