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Japanese Panel Advocates Change in Defense Strategy - 2004-10-04

A government advisory panel is recommending sweeping changes to Japan's defense structure. This come as news reports say Japan will ask the United States to move some of its troops out of the country.

A panel of academics, business leaders, and former government officials is calling for Japan to consider acquiring the ability to launch pre-emptive military strikes. That would move the country away from its purely defensive security policy.

Analysts say the recommendations from the panel will strongly influence the government's official defense review, expected to be issued in December. It will be only the third such review since Japan's defeat in World War II.

The advisory panel to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday also urged the government to discuss expanding an overseas policing role for the Self Defense Forces. And it recommends relaxing the ban on weapons exports to the United States and other countries, as well as on acquiring advanced spy satellites.

By far the most controversial proposal recommends that Japan obtain a first-strike capability, allowing it to hit enemy missile bases to prevent an attack. That recommendation, if adopted, would be certain to anger Asian neighbors, especially China and North Korea.

The panel, however, came out against Japan having nuclear weapons, saying it must not pose a threat to neighboring countries.

The recommendations come as Japan and the United States continue discussions on plans to scale back the U.S. military presence in the country.

Japan's largest circulation newspaper, the Yomiuri, on Monday reported Tokyo will ask Washington to move some Marines now on the southern island of Okinawa outside the country.

Regional security expert Sheila Smith at the East-West Center in Hawaii says there is no doubt some changes will be made to the Okinawa forces.

"The U.S. Marines are a tremendous burden in Okinawa, particularly the infantry and the training needs of the infantry in Okinawa can't really be met on the island, given the sensitivities there," said Ms. Smith.

Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan's land, but hosts about two-thirds of the 40,000 American forces in the country.

In recent years, Okinawans have grown increasingly angry about the military presence, because of land disputes and highly publicized violent crimes committed by a few U.S. troops.

The Yomiuri report says in return for moving troops outside the country, Japan would provide pre-positioning facilities for weapons, fuel and other equipment for the U.S. military.