The Sep. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States gave Japan opportunities to expand its military role overseas in the name of the US-led anti-terrorism war.
With the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 incident drawing near, Japan, one of the closest allies of the United States, is now considering on how to provide logistic support, or more than that, to the possible US attack on Iraq.
The Iraq issue will be high on the agenda of Japanese Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi when he holds talks with US President George W. Bush on Sept. 12.
Koizumi is scheduled to fly to New York for a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the attacks to show solidarity with the United States, the government here said.
Japan, with so much at stake in the anti-terrorism led by the United States, already sent its MSDF (Maritime Self Defense Forces)destroyers, supply ships and over 1,000 troops last October to theIndian Ocean to provide logistic support to the US and British warships deployed there.
The six-month support mission, extended in may until Nov. 19, is the first wartime dispatch of Japan's Self Defense Forces (SDF)overseas since the end of World War II.
The mission followed the enactment of a new anti-terrorism law in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks that widened the SDF's mandate, allowing Japan to provide military logistic support to the US-led military operations.
The new law also authorized the SDF to fire on unidentified ships in Japanese territorial waters to stop them under certain conditions.
Previously, Japan's post-World War II constitution limited its military to non-combat roles following its brutal aggressions against its Asian neighbors. The Constitution also limited the SDF's role in dealing with terrorism in Japanese territories.
Thus, the enactment of the new law and the dispatch of SDF's ships to the Indian Ocean represented a major step forward in the expansion of Japan's military mission overseas.
In April, the Japanese government went further to submit three bills for emergency measures in the event of a military attack or the possibility of such an attack on Japan, which analysts said will give Japan a legal basis for the expansion of its military role.
One of the three bills is for a new law specifying measures to deal with armed attacks or perceived threats of attacks on Japan, while the other two aim to give more power to the SDF and Japan's Security Council.
The government also adopted a policy of creeping re-militarization through constant reinterpretation of what the Constitution permits, analysts said, adding that the new anti-terrorism law and the three bills were not driven by threats of terrorism.
But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States did give Japan a chance to quicken the process. What would have taken several years to happen now took place in several weeks.
Japan's military forces are more than ever actively engaged in operations overseas after the Sept. 11 incident, causing some worries among its Asian neighbors in fear of a revival of Japanesemilitarism, observers said.
But Japan now faces a tough challenge and hard decision on the Iraq issue.
Some Japanese politicians called on the government to engage militarily and more actively this time, including providing logistic support in event of a US attack on Iraq.
The US side already urged Japan to consider what it can do to support the US-led war on terrorism in the event Washington decides to attack Iraq.
If Japan is to further expand its military role on Iraqi issue this time, it will face pressures both domestically and internationally as many countries, including European countries, have voiced their opposition to a preemptive strike on Iraq.
This will be a crucial moment for Japanese leaders, as the Iraqissue will have a far-reaching influence on Japan, analysts said.