2015: Broadening SDF missions abroad

Security in Northeast Asia  -  JAPAN

Quelle: The Japan Times, EDITORIALS
MAR 25, 2015

Broadening SDF missions abroad

The outline of a package of security legislation planned by the Abe administration, agreed on last week by the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito, fails to set clear restrictions on the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ overseas missions and leaves much room for discretion on the part of the current administration. As such, it won’t dispel concerns that the SDF’s activities abroad could be expanded without limits, following the Abe Cabinet’s decision last year to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense and undertake joint military action with its allies.

The planned legislation is meant to implement the Cabinet’s decision last July, which marks a major change in Japan’s postwar defense posture. Still, its drafting appears to be proceeding according to the political interests of the parties involved, without sufficient public discussions on key questions.

Talks between the LDP and Komeito resumed in February for the first time since the Cabinet decision, and the parties drew up the outline in only about a month by shelving some of the more contentious issues — including more specific definitions of the conditions under which Japan could engage in collective self-defense operations — while agreeing on text with qualifiers that open the door to liberal interpretation and exceptions.

The LDP apparently wanted to move the process forward in accordance with the administration’s scenario of tabling the legislations to the Diet by mid-May and enacting them by the end of the current session. In parallel with the work on the security legislation, the government plans to update the guidelines on Japan’s security cooperation with the United States in late April — to be followed by Abe’s visit to Washington to confirm efforts to deepen the security alliance. Komeito, on the other hand, needed to wrap core parts of the agreement in ambiguity to prevent discussions on the issue from undermining voter support in the upcoming nationwide local elections.

The planned legislation includes legal amendments to enable Japan to resort to acts of collective self-defense; a revision to the 1999 law on logistical support for the U.S. military in emergencies in areas surrounding Japan; and a proposed blanket law on the dispatch of SDF to provide logistical support for the forces of other countries taking part in international military operations.

In the talks, the LDP accepted Komeito’s request for inserting a set of principles the dispatch of SDF in overseas missions. The outline says that such SDF operations need to have legitimacy under international law; that democratic control of such operations would be secured in such ways as the Diet’s endorsement; and that necessary measures will be taken to ensure the safety of SDF personnel taking part in the missions.

But specific rules to apply these principles are left vague. The outline says that overseas deployment of SDF units will require the Diet’s approval prior to the dispatch either “basically” or “in principle” — which leaves room for the government to seek the Diet’s endorsement after the troops have been sent on overseas missions.

Japan has always enacted special temporary laws each time the SDF was dispatched on support missions in multinational operations — such as the refueling of naval vessels taking part in the fighting in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 2001 attacks on the United States and the reconstruction and transport of troops in connection with the Iraq War. The proposed blanket law to enable such missions, according to the outline, will specify that the operations for which the SDF will provide support either need to be based on United Nations resolutions or have related U.N. resolutions to ensure the legitimacy of the operations. But it is not clear whether the resolutions need to be those adopted by the U.N. Security Council endorsing the use of force.

The 1999 law on logistical support for the U.S. military — enacted with possible contingencies in and around the Korean Peninsula in mind — does not set geographical boundaries of areas in which Japan can provide support for the operations of U.S. forces. Then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi told the Diet that the government did not have in mind a dispatch of the SDF to the Middle East or Indian Ocean. But the Abe administration plans to remove references in the law to areas “surrounding Japan” to eliminate the geographical concept, and the outline says that the law would be invoked to support the militaries of the U.S. and other countries that deal with situations “that gravely affect the peace and security” of Japan. This means that deployment of the SDF on such missions would depend not on where a contingency is taking place but whether the government determines that the situation — no matter where it is — “gravely affects” Japan’s peace and security.

The outline calls for a legal framework to ensure that the SDF units on such support missions would not operate as an integral part of the use of force by the militaries of other countries. But last July’s Cabinet decision substantially expanded the scope of SDF operations on such missions. Whereas previously SDF units were deployed only in what were defined as “rear areas” or “noncombat zones,” the decision paved the way for the SDF’s logistical support of other forces except in locations where fighting is taking place. The government also reportedly plans to add to the SDF’s missions the supply of ammunition to other forces. Practically speaking, it would not stand to reason if the government was to insist that the supply of ammunition to forces engaged in combat — even if such missions took place outside the battlefield — should not be considered a part of the use of force.

On Japan engaging in collective self-defense, the Cabinet decision last year said “use of force to a minimum extent” would be permitted “not only when an armed attack against Japan occurs but also when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and, as a result, threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn the people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and when there is no other appropriate means available to repel the attack and ensure Japan’s survival and protect its people.” The outline only said such requirements should be appropriately reflected in the relevant law.

But the problem is that the requirements in the Cabinet’s decision are so vaguely defined that they allow for very broad interpretations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterates that SDF can take part in a minesweeping operation in the Strait of Hormuz during a military crisis in the Middle East because a halt to crude oil shipment from the region would have grave economic impact that could threaten Japan’s survival — a view that Komeito refuses to endorse. The outlines does not go into specifics. A lack of specifics in the planned law would mean the decision would be left to the discretion of the administration in power.

The outline — again hastily put together in closed-door talks within the ruling coalition — fails to address many of the questions concerning how far the government plans to expand the scope of the SDF’s missions overseas. The questions need to be answered and clarified in the process of drawing up the legislation, and scrutinized by the Diet when the bills are tabled.

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