Sept. 19 marks the first anniversary of the enactment of the security-related legislation that has opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited way.
There have been drastic changes in the international situation surrounding Japan over the past year alone. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and repeatedly launched missiles under the leadership of Kim Jong Un. China, which is increasing its presence in the international community, has continued to flex its muscles in the South China Sea in ignorance of a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal.
On the other hand, U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that he would review U.S. ties with its allies including Japan if elected. Japan must not be insensitive about such changes in the security environment. However, if Japan were to stick to the idea of resorting to force to counter force, it would only lead to a vicious circle.
Japan should pursue effective cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and U.S. forces within the framework of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. In this regard, the security legislation, which overstepped the basic framework for Japan’s postwar security policy, is problematic both politically and in terms of operations of SDF troops.
Moreover, since Diet deliberations on the bills concentrated on whether Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense under the current Constitution, other important points of contention remain unaddressed. Under such circumstances, the government reportedly intends to launch the training of SDF personnel to guard U.S. military vessels.
The SDF’s guarding of U.S. military vessels, for which Washington places high expectations, is viewed as the core of efforts to strengthen the bilateral alliance. The two countries assume that the SDF would guard U.S. military vessels if U.S. vessels were to come under attack while monitoring and being on alert against the launch of ballistic missiles, conducting joint drills with the SDF or engaging in transportation and supply missions in situations that could seriously threat Japan’s peace and security.
Under the security legislation, the SDF can guard U.S. military vessels in cases where U.S. troops are cooperating with SDF personnel in conducting operations that contribute to Japan’s defense. However, the scope of such activities has not been clarified.
For instance, it remains unclear whether operations like possible joint warning and surveillance activities between the SDF and U.S. forces in the South China Sea in the future could be recognized as operations that contribute to Japan’s defense.
There are no geographical restrictions on the SDF’s missions of guarding U.S. vessels or clear conditions for use of force in such missions. Nor is Diet approval required before launching such missions. Japan can launch such missions if Tokyo is asked by U.S. forces and Japan’s defense minister deems it necessary.
Opposition parties criticized the lack of clear conditions for such missions as a “loophole for exercising the right to collective self-defense” during Diet deliberations on the security bills last year. The government has since failed to clearly show criteria or standards for such missions. Nor has the government determined how the Cabinet and the Diet should be involved in decisions on whether to go ahead with such missions.
Furthermore, the government has failed to show criteria for judging what constitutes “situations that threaten Japan’s survival,” which allows Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or “situations that have a serious impact on Japan,” which enables the SDF to extend logistical support to U.S. and other military forces on a global scale. In other words, such judgment is left to the discretion of the executive branch while members of the general public have no clear idea of such situations.
In the upcoming extraordinary Diet session, opposition parties should shed light on these problems and the executive branch should provide a clear explanation to the general public.