Japan to Resume Refueling Missions, Debates Deployment Law
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Overriding opposition in the upper house of Japan’s Diet, the parliament’s lower house voted Jan. 11 to resume Indian Ocean refueling missions by the Maritime Self-Defense Force (SDF) that were discontinued Oct. 29.
The Maritime SDF began refueling coalition warships supporting the U.S.-sponsored Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, but political opposition in the upper house allowed the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law to expire Nov. 1, ending the mission.
Under Japan’s laws, the SDF cannot be sent overseas without the passage of a “special temporary law,” which sets strict timetables that encumber the force’s ability to guarantee continued support for humanitarian, reconstruction and peacekeeping missions.
“Japan has been dispatching the SDF abroad by enacting special temporary laws, confining the term of limitation,” said Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo-based Congressional National Security Research Group. “And until now, regarding the balance at the parliament, we have been continuing the contribution under the current law system by extending the term.”
The law allowing the refuelings had been re-approved by the Diet several times, but the July election placed the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which opposes the missions, into a majority in the upper house.
“We are considering the establishment of a permanent law to lay out a robust system to contribute internationally, while we are still able to achieve two-thirds of the vote in the lower house,” Akiyama said.
On Jan. 8, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura announced that Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba were working on a new law that would allow for rapid deployment of the military in times of crisis. However, the new law still would require approval from the parliament before deployment.
“The Liberal Democratic Party [LDP] has made it clear that any permanent law would then require Diet prior approval for SDF dispatch on each mission,” said Christopher Hughes, author of “Japan’s Re-emergence as a ‘Normal’ Military Power.” “This contrasts with the current situation of ex post facto approval. Moreover, clear U.N. mandates and non-combat zone missions are also likely to be specified. So in theory, the domestic constitutional and legal restrictions will be much more transparent and perhaps even more restrictive.”
The urge to enact such a law is based partly on practicality, said Yoichiro Sato of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu.
“Prior to 1998, Japan’s only enabling law for overseas SDF dispatch was the 1992 Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) Law, which enabled SDF participation in U.N. PKOs. In 1998, the Regional Contingency Law was passed based on the revised guideline for U.S.-Japan Security Cooperation,” he said. “Primarily aimed at enhancing the bilateral military cooperation in Northeast Asia, though not explicitly limiting the geographical scope as such, the law’s applicability in distant areas and in multilateral cooperation contexts was in doubt.”
Sato pointed out that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., Japan took two months to work on the law allowing the maritime SDF to take part in refueling missions.
“Another special measures law for the SDF dispatches to Iraq took even longer,” he said.
Debate on the issue of a permanent law has been ongoing for some time, said Peter Woolley, author of “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices.”
“Conversations have gone on and will continue about normalizing the use of Japan’s defense forces,” Woolley said. “The layers of nuances in the constitutional understanding of Article Nine demonstrate that every expansion of the SDF’s latitude requires significant effort on the government’s part.
“It is certainly possible that some clearer guidelines and streamlined procedures [for the overseas dispatches] will be agreed upon in the not-distant future — perhaps after another shift of seats in the lower or upper house,” Woolley said.