Article 9 of Japan's constitution reads:
"Aspiring sincerely to an
international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised."
Nonetheless it is expected to increase momentum for the ruling Liberal Democratic party's (LDP) push to state clearly in the constitution Japan's right to maintain a military.
The legislation, which sets out guidelines for amending the charter, passed easily on Monday because the LDP holds a majority.
Abe has said the LDP would make constitutional reform a focal point in an election for the upper house in July, his first big electoral test since taking office in September.
But countries such China that suffered under Japan's militaristic past, have voiced concern about its push to revise its military stance.
The constitution, drafted by US occupation authorities in one week in February 1947, has never been altered since.
Changing the charter requires approval by two-thirds of the members of both houses of parliament as well as half the voters in a national referendum.
|Abe's move to rewrite the constitution is part |
of efforts to boost Japan's global role [Reuters]
Article 9 renounces the right to wage war to resolve international disputes and bans the maintenance of a military.
However the interpretation of the article has been stretched not only to permit a sizeable armed forces for self-defence, but also to allow military activities abroad, including the deployment by Abe's predecessor of troops on a non-combat mission to Iraq.
The US, Japan's close ally, has made clear it would welcome revision of Article 9, but Japanese voters remain cautious.
A survey published earlier this month by the liberal Asahi newspaper showed that while 58 per cent of respondents favoured some changes to the constitution, 49 per cent opposed changing Article 9 against 33 per cent who backed revising it.
Extension in Iraq
Also on Monday, a committee in the lower house of Japan's parliament began a debate on extending the country's air force mission in Iraq after it expires in July.
The two-year extension plan was approved by the cabinet in March but requires legislative approval. If passed by the committee, the measure is expected to go before the full lower house, the more powerful of parliament's two chambers, on Tuesday.
Japanese forces have been airlifting foreign troops and supplies to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities from nearby Kuwait since early 2006.
Abe said the job in Iraq was only half done and needed to be finished, telling legislators: "We need to show our position that we are committed to work long-term."