(Sentaku: February 2015 – pp. 46-47)
In late 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a top secret study at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and Ministry of Defense (MOD) on the possible role of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the war against the Islamic State if asked by the U.S. for support, thinking that if Japan refused to offer assistance, the U.S. forces might not help Japan in a contingency over the Senkaku Islands. The U.S. is seen to be in a stalemate in its fight against ISIL and may ask Abe, who is keen on expanding the SDF’s role, for support.
Inside MOFA, the North American Affairs Bureau and the Foreign Policy Bureau took charge of the study and it was reckoned that getting involved in this war “would have absolutely no merit” because Japan could become a target of religious hatred and this could also complicate relations with Russia, which has close ties with Syria.
On the other hand, some officials argue that in light of the Japan-U.S. summit in May, Japan should respond positively to the U.S.’s request for support. In any case, most senior MOFA officials, including Minister Kishida, are not likely to resist the Prime Minister’s order.
Meanwhile, although the MOD is grateful that the U.S. forces have recently increased the provision of military intelligence on ISIL, there is concern that this might be a prelude to seeking Japan’s participation. The MOD is absolutely opposed to sending the SDF for ground battles and it reckons the most realistic role for the SDF would be to join a naval blockade to prevent ISIL from transporting oil, its main source of income. Another possibility would be disengagement duties after fighting has ceased, based on the SDF’s previous experience in the Golan Heights.
However, partly in light of the recent ISIL hostage incident, government officials are most concerned about retaliatory terrorist attacks on Japanese people. As a matter of fact, a top priority MOD study that started shortly before the hostage incident is on counterterrorism measures for SDF troops involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, close to ISIL-controlled areas.
While the risk of terrorist attacks in Japan is considered to be relatively low right now, SDF involvement in the fight against ISIL would increase the risk dramatically.
On the other hand, Abe’s expectation for U.S. support in the event of Chinese occupation of the Senkakus may not be fulfilled because getting involved would have no military merit for the U.S. and the occupation of the islands would not affect the superior position of U.S. submarines in this sea area. Although some reckon that demonstrating Japan’s stance as a U.S. ally may have a positive effect on the Senkaku issue, this is premised on Japan’s adopting the U.S. position of not negotiating with terrorists in a situation like the hostage incident. (Summary)