A group of senior politicians in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is pushing to amend or supercede a 1969 resolution that effectively bars the nation’s military from substantive participation in space activities.

The group also is proposing the creation of a cabinet-level post for space policy governing civil, military and commercial activities. Japan’s first State Minister of Space could be appointed before the end of the year, officials said.

Amending or scrapping the 1969 resolution would bring Japan in line with norms established by the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty, said Takeo Kawamura, who heads the LDP’s Special Committee on Space Development. Kawamura is a former head of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), which oversees the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and others involved in space activity.

The change would permit Japan to use space for defensive purposes only, such as missile warning and surveillance, Kawamura said in an interview. “What we are proposing is within the interpretation of the [Outer Space] Treaty. The change should be in the context of the right of self-defense only. Japan’s intention is not to increase anxiety among our Asian neighbors,” he said.

Japan’s Diet, or parliament, passed a resolution in 1969 creating a national space agency with the stipulation that space be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. Although the resolution does not have the force of law, it is honored due to its association with a clause in Japan’s post-war constitution renouncing war.

The interpretation of the resolution has evolved over the years. In 1985, for example, the military was permitted to purchase commercial space services, such as satellite communications. Moreover, the resolution did not prevent Japan from initiating a reconnaissance satellite program after North Korea launched a missile over its territory in 1998.

Japan currently is engaged in missile defense development activities in cooperation with the United States, and Kawamura said changing the law would permit Japan to launch satellites for detecting missile launches.

Toward that end, a group within the LDP called the Subcommittee on the Revision of the Diet Resolution on Peaceful Purposes for the use of Outer Space has drafted an interim report containing three options: adopt a new Diet resolution; change the interpretation of the existing resolution; or pass a new law that supercedes the resolution.

The timing for formally bringing the proposed change before the Diet for a vote is uncertain, and may depend on which option is pursued, space and policy experts here said. As for the creation of the State Minister for Space, that could happen as soon as September, when the successor to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi forms a new cabinet.

Having a State Minister for Space would enable Japan to better incorporate strategic and economic considerations into space policymaking, proponents said. The space minister would chair a new Council for Space Strategy, consisting of Japan’s user ministries such as MEXT, the Japan Defense Agency, and others, Kawamura said. Currently space policy-making is spread among several bodies and centers.

“Japanese space development has been focused very much on research and development and it lacks vision for security and commercialization. It has created a situation that Japanese space development has become stalemated,” Kawamura said.

Kazuto Suzuki, a space policy expert at the University of Tsukuba, said the initiative, if successful, would enable Japan to formulate a coherent national strategy for space development and give space a higher priority in the national agenda. One result could be increased funding for space, where budgets have been flat for a decade, Suzuki wrote in a March 28 e-mail.

“I think this is a turning point … to realize how important space is for national strategy,” Suzuki said . “So what he wants to do is to change the mind-set of Japanese policy-makers as well as general public to regard space as a strategic tool … he thinks that space would attract more political support, which would eventually lead to the increase of [the] budget.”

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