Is it time for Japan to prime its weapons and sail out into the world in defense of peace? The very idea still incites howls of protest in Asia - not least in Japan, where popular attachment to the country's postwar "peace" constitution remains powerful. Yet Japan's modestly named Self-Defense Forces are involved in many regional hot spots (no combat duty, of course) and seek to play a more active part in UN peacekeeping. If a shooting war ever breaks out in Asia, Japan is nowadays prepared to do a lot more than fill the petrol tanks.
It is past time for these modest changes, because the Asia/Pacific region's many fault lines affect the interests of the world's great and emerging powers in fundamental ways. Northeast Asia contains the last remnants of the Cold War: the divided Korean Peninsula and hostile glares across the Taiwan Straits. Southeast Asia forms its own unique geo-political environment, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, cultures, and religions in tension - as the current Islamic unrest in Thailand attests.
Beyond these conventional strategic concerns, the emergence of global terrorism and the Iraq War re-enforce Japan's sense that the strategic environment has changed profoundly. The roles and obligations of the Self-Defense Forces must gradually shift and diversify, and their zone of action broadened.
Neat binary concepts like "peacetime" and "wartime" are no longer viable. The world must get used to a twilight security environment of sudden and peripheral emergencies. Japan's laws are primed for this change, because the obligations of the Self-Defense Forces are relatively clear in these circumstances. The "Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law" allows the Self-Defense Forces to participate in the fight against international terrorism, although the form of participation is limited to logistical support.