The United States and Japan outlined plans Wednesday for deeper security cooperation in a move reflecting Tokyo's new position that its pacifist constitution allows it to defend U.S. forces under attack.
The five-page interim report on the revision of the two nations' bilateral security guidelines calls on the new framework to "reflect the global nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance" -- a shift from the emphasis on "situations in areas surrounding Japan" in the current version of the guidelines, which were written in 1997.
The potential expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces' use on the global stage remains controversial, as does the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is moving ahead with those plans.
A recent Kyodo News poll found that only 13 percent of Japanese respondents thought the government had properly explained why it reinterpreted the post-WWII constitution, which states that the Japanese "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation."
Japan's foreign ministry stated in July that the constitution's "right (of the people) to live in peace" trumps the war renunciation clause and allows it to use force in defense of its own people, and in defense of close allies critical to guaranteeing Japan's survival.
The region has changed markedly since the U.S.-Japan security guidelines were revised to reflect post-Cold War strategy, a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
"Concerns over North Korea's ballistic missile programs have grown, emerging threats in the cyber and space domains have emerged and there are new challenges to freedom of navigation," the official said. "The updated guidelines will equip the U.S.-Japan security alliance to respond to the modern threat environment."
Despite a Cabinet resolution that calls for Japan to defend close allies and plans for legal revisions during next year's legislative session, Japan's forces should remain constrained, at least by most international standards. The government's stance calls for a "very passive and limited 'use of weapons' to the minimum extent necessary," if Japan must defend a close ally under attack.
The interim report released Wednesday also states that the new guidelines will address intelligence sharing and facility use.
They also will include an operational framework for security operations in the event of a major disaster, "in light of lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake," according to the report. The major quake in 2011 spawned a tsunami that led to a nuclear disaster. U.S. forces provided significant help.
A final report on the new guidelines, which have been in the works since a visit from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry to Tokyo in 2013, is expected by the end of the year.
Japanese officials have scheduled a news conference outlining the changes for Wednesday evening, Japan time.