Such gestures would sustain the approach of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, whose leaders have in recent years promoted greater Japanese engagement abroad. In addition to its support efforts in the Afghanistan war, Japan had 600 noncombat troops in Iraq for two years.
An expanded support role in Afghanistan could generate stiff opposition from many Japanese, as critics oppose the military involvement as a violation of the nation's war-renouncing Constitution.
But if Japan's Self-Defense Forces were to send troops to Afghanistan, they would operate under UN auspices, something that is more palatable to the Japanese public, says Shikata, adding that "I believe Mr. Okada's active diplomacy will also convince more people."
A year ago, then-Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also suggested it was time to pay more attention to Afghanistan. At the time, the DPJ was not necessarily averse to such an idea; then-party leader Ichiro Ozawa had already floated the idea that Japan should send SDF troops to the country.