Rules on the use of arms by Japanese troops taking part in peacekeeping operations overseas may be eased to allow them to use weapons even when their lives are not at risk, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said Sunday.
Such a decision would mark a change in Japan's interpretation of its constitution, particularly of Article 9, in which it abandoned the right to wage war or maintain an army. But the article has been interpreted to allow forces for self-defence.
Six decades after its World War II surrender, Tokyo hopes finally to emerge from the shadow of defeat and play a bigger role in global security affairs.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to revise the constitution. In 2005 the ruling party released a draft charter that would formally recognise Japan's right to maintain armed forces.
According to the Yomiuri, the rule changes would allow Self-Defense Force personnel to do such things as protect United Nations facilities and prevent captured people fleeing.
The changes would make it easier for Japanese forces to take part in peacekeeping operations, such as ceasefire monitoring, where they might have to use force to carry out their duties even if their lives were not in danger, the daily said.
Arms use would still be limited to situations where the targets were not regular, state-backed forces. This would most likely be limited to criminal gangs, although guerrilla organisations might also be included.
Defense Ministry officials were not available for comment.
Japan boosted its international military role under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi by backing the US-led war on terror with non-combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Last Tuesday, in a move signalling a bolder security stance, Japan raised its Defense Agency to full-fledged ministry status. A law passed last month also makes overseas missions a key role for the country's military.