(Yomiuri: January 15, 2015 – p. 1)
In a bid to swiftly mobilize the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to deal with so-called gray-zone incidents, the government has decided to introduce a system under which a Cabinet decision can be made with ministers’ approval obtained via telephone, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
This system is currently used to cope with large-scale terrorism, suspicious ships, and natural disasters. According to sources, the government will expand the application of the system to cover gray-zone incidents as well, in line with its decision last July to step up response to gray-zone situations. The Cabinet is expected to approve a set of procedures for this in the current fiscal year.
Under the SDF Law, the SDF can be mobilized for public security or maritime security operations in situations the police or the Japan Coast Guard is incapable of dealing with. However, both will require authorization by a Cabinet decision.
While a so-called “mochimawari Cabinet decision,” where Cabinet officials hand-carry the text of decisions for signature by each minister, is also possible in an emergency, government officials are concerned that if a gray-zone situation occurs in the middle of the night or in the predawn hours, immediate response may not be possible.
A Cabinet decision via telephone is a mechanism to obtain the ministers’ verbal approval via telephone or other means of communication, while approval from ministers who are not immediately available will be obtained later. The plan is to use secured cell phones or land-line phones currently used by cabinet members and the responsible secretaries. While records of the decisions made will be kept, no actual signature is required.
The government has the following specific gray-zone situations in mind: (1) armed groups of unknown nationality landing on remote islands; (2) foreign ships cruising in Japanese territorial sea; and (3) illegal acts against private Japanese ships by foreign vessels.
There has also been a proposal in the government and the ruling parties to adopt an “advance Cabinet decision” system where a Cabinet decision is made before an incident occurs in a serious situation — such as foreign ships cruising in Japanese waters – which allows the prime minister to order the mobilization of the SDF without going through the Cabinet approval process when the incident actually takes place. However, there are concerns that this may be problematic in relation to civilian control, so this idea is being studied very carefully. [Translated by Yomiuri/edited by MATT]