(Tokyo Shimbun: January 28, 2015 – pp. 28-29)
By Chiaki Sawada, Noritake Misawa
The regular Diet session has convened in the midst of the crisis of the Islamic State’s abduction of Japanese nationals as hostages. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to pass security legislation in this Diet session in line with the cabinet decision last July. However, what the hostage crisis has revealed is the risk of a “blood alliance” with the U.S., which is what the security legislation is aiming at. Abe’s statements on the day before the Diet opened indicated his intent to take advantage of the hostage crisis to move forward in forming such a “blood alliance.”
Abe appeared on the NHK talk show “Nichiyo Toron” on the morning of Jan. 25, the day after an image showing hostage Haruna Yukawa had been killed was uploaded on the Internet. After discussing the hostage crisis, he gave the following comments on security legislation in the current Diet session:
“Under current laws, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) is unable to make full use of its capabilities to rescue Japanese nationals in a situation like this, where Japanese people are in harm’s way overseas. I will work on security legislation, including laws relating to such situations.”
Is he thinking that with the passage of security legislation, the SDF will be able to go on rescue missions in cases like the present one?
The cabinet decision says: “Given that many Japanese nationals are actively working overseas and face risks of being involved in emergency situations such as terrorism, it is necessary to enable the rescuing of Japanese nationals abroad by use of weapons subject to the consent of acceptance from the territorial State.”
What is important here is that it is clearly stated that there needs to be “consent from the territorial State that maintains governing power, through ensuring that ‘a state or a quasi-state organization’ does not appear as the adversary.”
This clearly does not apply to the Islamic State because even the Assad administration of Syria can hardly go near the territory it controls.
There are also other contradictions. Military commentator Shunji Taoka voices the following criticism: “The purpose of the cabinet decision is to help evacuate Japanese stranded overseas in an emergency or disaster. The Prime Minister is mixing up evacuation and rescue operations such as in the present case, or he is trying to give the viewers the impression that the SDF will be able to rescue the hostages.”
It is doubtful if a rescue operation will be possible. This is clear from the failed U.S. government rescue operation executed on the day after the video of the killing of an American journalist held by the Islamic State was uploaded on the Internet last August.
Taoka points out: “It is extremely difficult to pinpoint the location where hostages or captives are being held even for the U.S. special forces utilizing reconnaissance planes, wiretapping, and bugging. Even if the SDF launches a rescue operation, the possibility of success is almost nil.”
Another significant statement was also made on this TV program. Commenting on military actions by the coalition of the willing that are not authorized by UN resolutions, such as air raids on the Islamic State, Abe said that “rear support (by the SDF) is possible under the Constitution, with or without UN resolutions, because no use of force is involved.” However, the meaning of “rear support” is now radically different after the Cabinet decision of July 2014.
There have been two cases so far of SDF overseas deployment to provide rear support to foreign troops, in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, under the constitutional interpretation at that time, while providing supplies for other countries’ combat operations did not constitute “military action” or “use of force” banned by the constitution, becoming part of combat activities was regarded as a constitutional violation. Therefore, the laws authorizing the two missions limited SDF operations to non-combat zones.
On the other hand, the cabinet decision last July did away with the caveat on “non-combat zones,” thus expanding the scope of operations to all locations except sites where fighting is actually taking place. This, naturally, will include areas where fighting may erupt after the SDF starts its operations. In other words, this is a constitutional violation that tacitly approves of “use of force.”
Military commentator Tetsuo Maeda points out that “the cabinet decision brought rear support much closer to combat zones.” Furthermore, Abe is aiming at enacting permanent laws to allow the dispatch of the SDF overseas at all times.
Maeda says: “During the debate on the cabinet decision, the Abe administration claimed that it is possible for the SDF to undertake minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf. It will, therefore, be no surprise if the ‘Japanese army’ is seen to be engaged in joint operations with the U.S. forces in the Middle East.”
Abe recently embarked a Middle East tour amid such a situation. Former defense official Kyoji Yanagisawa notes that, “The Prime Minister stated in a speech in Egypt on Jan. 17 that the $200 million humanitarian aid he announced during this trip was meant to ‘contain the threat posed by the Islamic State.’ The Islamic extremists have come to regard the Japanese as enemies on account of such financial aid alone. If Japan moves on to provide military rear support, Japanese people will become the target of terrorist attacks everywhere in the world.”
Abe seems to give higher priority to the Japan-U.S. “blood alliance” than such risks.
Aoe Tanami, chief research fellow at Seikei University’s Center for Asian and Pacific Studies who specializes in Middle East studies, points out: “We must remember that the Islamic State is the product of the quagmire resulting from the U.S. occupation after its attack on Iraq to democratize the Middle East. Therefore, it is impossible to make ‘contributions’ in the Middle East within the framework of Japan’s alliance with the U.S. There needs to be a basic rethinking starting from this premise.”
However, it is indeed irresponsible for a member of the international community to condone the Islamic extremists. Then what sort of contributions should Japan make?
Professor Akira Usuki of Japan Women’s University asserts: “The Arab states and Israel want to strengthen economic relations with Japan. It will also be a problem for them to receive military aid from a country with which they have had practically no historical or political relations.
“However, there are certain things that Japan can do. For example, it is better for Japan to have proper relations with Iran, which is a major Shiite state regarded as the archenemy by the Islamic State. Iran holds the key to the fight against the Islamic State. Japan has cold shouldered repeated overtures from Iran on account of its alliance with the U.S. I think giving more importance to Iran will be in Japan’s national interest from now on.”
Abe stated repeatedly at the representative interpellation in the House of Representatives on Jan. 27 that he gives top priority to saving human lives.
Yet, he is talking about SDF rescue operations while efforts to save human lives are going on. While his seriousness about saving lives is doubtful, opinion polls show that 60% of the people approve of the administration’s handling of the hostage crisis.
Taoka is alarmed by the hostage crisis and the administration’s aggressive approach to security legislation. He says: “Support for the administration usually goes up in all countries in a war. The people become united and a belligerent mood evolves. The assassination of the Austrian crown prince and his wife cost the lives of 16 million people during World War I. I am unsettled by this rising public mood of ‘go get them’ triggered by the hostage crisis.” (Slightly abridged)