(Shukan Asahi: December 4, 2015 – pp. 18-21)
By Hiroshi Kamei, Yukifumi Nishioka
France has called for the “extinction” of the Islamic State (IS) after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. In light of the international encirclement of the IS, it is very likely that Japan will be called upon to play a role.
Kyoji Yanagisawa, former assistant deputy chief cabinet secretary, points out that if the international community decides to send ground troops to Syria, “there is no doubt that they will seek some form of support from Japan.”
If the U.S. is attacked, which the IS has threatened to do, even President Barack Obama, who has been reluctant to send the U.S. forces, may be forced to engage in a ground battle. Military commentator Tetsuo Maeda, who is critical of the security laws, predicts that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) may be sent for search and rescue operations, which are allowed under the security laws even in combat zones. He sees a real possibility of the U.S. forces asking for the SDF’s deployment to the other side of the globe.
Asia Press reporter Taku Sakamoto, a veteran of reporting on the IS in Syria, reckons that at first the SDF will probably send aircraft for logistical support, but these aircraft may be attacked by IS missiles.
Military journalist Shunji Taoka observes that with restrictions being lifted under the security laws, the SDF may engage in operations to rush to the rescue of troops of other countries under attack and transport, supply, man checkpoints, and perform other security missions, which may result in “dozens” of SDF casualties.
Sakamoto also points out that the SDF will be at risk of being attacked by suicide bombers disguised as civilians, especially children trained by the IS for such missions, since it will be difficult to identify them. It is also at risk of firing at civilians by mistake.
The Cabinet Legislation Bureau, the Defense Ministry, and other relevant government offices are reportedly holding top secret meetings to discuss new rules of engagement (ROE) and draft guidelines on this before the security laws take effect next March.
Even if the alliance of the willing succeeds in ousting the IS from Syria and Iraq, there will still be the danger of its remnants initiating retaliatory terrorist attacks anywhere in the world. Taoka asserts that the Shinkansen is a major vulnerability of Japan.
The Abe administration is reportedly positive about participating in the fight against the IS. It has been gathering the responsible officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry since late last year for discussions on what Japan can do if asked by the U.S. to help in the anti-IS military operations.
Freelance journalist Hajime Takano believes that since the IS is very good at propaganda, Japanese overseas, particularly those in the Middle East, will be the targets of attack because Japan is portrayed as a henchman of the U.S.
Security at Japanese airports is also very lax by international standards and may not be able to prevent attacks with sophisticated explosives strapped to suicide bombers’ bodies or with biological or chemical weapons.
If the war against the IS turns into a quagmire, U.S. military bases in Japan, which are less secure than those on the U.S. mainland, may become targets of attack. Against the backdrop of increasing integration of U.S. forces and SDF operations — starting in the first half of the 2000s and culminating in collaboration under the revised Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines last April — Japan is facing increasing risks of being attacked by terrorists.
Meanwhile, Japan has continued to increase its “sympathy budget” for U.S. forces for about 40 years. While Japan is proposing a reduction of 70 billion yen this year, the U.S. side, on the contrary, is demanding a 30% increase (approximately 57 billion yen).
In addition, the Abe administration is procuring over 2 trillion yen worth of military hardware – 17 Ospreys, Global Hawk drones, Aegis ships, and so forth – from the U.S. It is said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving closer to the U.S. because of his serious concerns about the Senkaku Islands issue. However, a Foreign Ministry source says: “While he is supposedly strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance to protect the country, the U.S. may not necessarily help Japan when there is a conflict.” (Summary)