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Japan to Streamline Military as Part of 1st National Defense Changes in Decades : Asia: Policy document has smaller force assuming new duties, including anti-terrorism and disaster relief. Nation’s security council reaffirms alliance with U.S.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Japan on Tuesday revised its national defense policy for the first time in nearly two decades, calling for a high-tech, streamlined military force and reaffirming the security alliance with the United States.

The new policy, approved by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and other Cabinet members of the Security Council of Japan after extensive political wrangling, also spells out new duties for the force. Reflecting the Kobe earthquake and the poison-gas attack on Tokyo’s subways, which this year shook the sense of security this peaceful nation has long taken for granted, the guidelines add the duties of disaster relief and protection against terrorism. They also add global peacekeeping activities amid calls for Japan to play a more active international role.

But some analysts said the policy fails to articulate a new, post-Cold War mission for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. While the original 1976 defense plan justified the nation’s military buildup as protection against what it officially labeled the “latent threat” of what was then the Soviet Union, the revised guidelines do not specify any perceived security threats.

Although it contains an oblique reference to China as a “great military power [with] nuclear weapons in our country’s surroundings,” the ambiguity leaves the forces without a clear mission, said Makoto Momoi, a former Japan Defense Agency official and now security specialist with the Yomiuri Research Institute.

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“We can’t say anything frankly about the Korean peninsula, China or Russia,” said Momoi. “There is no new evaluation of the strategic environment, so there is no new mission under the new policy. We get a new, compact, smaller army, but the policy doesn’t explain what they should do.”

Momoi said the policy was a mishmash of compromises that leaves no one happy and will be defined over time through parliamentary questioning, leaks to the Japanese media and the Defense Agency’s own interpretations. But it retains the nation’s fundamental defense policies, such as maintaining the U.S.-Japan security alliance and disavowing military action except for self-defense.

Japan, whose defense budget tops $50 billion, is the world’s second-largest spender on military needs after the United States.

Momoi added that President Clinton’s canceled Japan visit, which had been scheduled for last week and was to have focused on security issues, contributed to the ambiguous language. Defense officials had hoped Clinton would prod Prime Minister Murayama, a Socialist, toward a stronger defense posture--perhaps horse-trading concessions regarding the controversial issue of U.S. forces on Okinawa in exchange for Japanese pledges to beef up air reconnaissance, naval power or technical cooperation, he said.

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But analysts also said the blueprint reflects Japan’s modern realities.

The plan reduces military personnel to 145,000 from 180,000 and creates a new reserve force of 15,000. But the reduction may have no actual effect, because the nation’s unpopular Self-Defense Forces have never been able to recruit the maximum number allowed. The number of personnel now stands at about 158,800 and is projected to decline further, as demographic shifts reduce the number of youths and a recovering economy provides more job alternatives.

In addition, calls for a more high-tech force in part reflect practical limitations on training exercises. Because of Japan’s congested land area and crowded air space, soldiers are increasingly training by using computer simulation and the like, Momoi said.

Negotiations over the policy continued until late Tuesday, with the three parties in the ruling coalition arguing over areas of sensitive language. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party wanted a tougher plan, while the more pacifist Socialists and New Party Harbinger argued for deeper military cuts.

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The Socialists and New Party Harbinger succeeded in including a call for Japan to work toward “a world without nuclear weapons.”

But the Liberal Democrats won a battle against language pledging to continue the ban on exporting arms--although the policy will be reconfirmed by the chief Cabinet secretary in a public statement after the guidelines are issued.

The maneuver makes it easier to change the policy in the future, as Japan’s defense industry struggles amid a sharp reduction in orders since the end of the Cold War.

The Liberal Democrats also successfully fought off Socialist attempts to insert a ban on Japan’s right to participate in collective defense. The current policy, as interpreted under the nation’s peace constitution, allows Japan to act militarily only in its own behalf and would prevent it from assisting the United States or other allies, even in its own back yard.

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The final plan reaffirms as “indispensable” the U.S.-Japan security alliance, which has been buffeted in recent weeks amid fallout over the rape of a Japanese girl on Okinawa, allegedly by U.S. servicemen. The plan asserts that the U.S. presence in Asia is necessary not only for Japan’s defense but also to help ensure regional stability.


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