The government has decided to introduce Osprey and other aircraft in order for the Self-Defense Forces to rescue Japanese nationals overseas and engage in security operations there. The decision reflects the strong desire of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to actually carry out duties stipulated in the national security legislation. Rescue operations will come with the possibility of endangering the lives of SDF personnel and will likely culminate in using armed force overseas. So the government must not easily dispatch the SDF for overseas activities.
The security law specifies the following three conditions for Japan’s rescue operations overseas: (1) the country and its local authorities maintain public security and there is no combat, (2) the country agrees to the SDF’s activities, and (3) it is possible to work and cooperate with the local authorities.
The three conditions have been set to prevent the SDF from engaging in a “counterattack against a planned and organizational attack by a state or a quasi-state organization” because that is regarded as the constitutionally prohibited use of force overseas.
But the SDF is allowed to engage in rescue operations overseas if and when the counter-force is too powerful for a local military or police to control. The counter-force may correspond to a “quasi-state organization” and that could escalate the SDF’s counterattack to the use of force.
When the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis broke out in Iran, a transport plane, carrying U.S. special forces on board, and a helicopter collided during rescue operations in 1980, with the deaths of eight servicemen. There are many cases of failure in rescue operations over the Middle Eastern militant group Islamic State (IS). Hostage rescue operations are conducted with scarce accurate information overseas so activities are always conducted under a difficult environment.
The Abe government aims to introduce equipment for the SDF and to fully ready the SDF for overseas missions while thinking of producing actual results from the SDF’s overseas missions incorporated in the security law enacted three years ago. But it must not forget the weight of the “restraint” stipulated in the Constitution and the lives of SDF personnel.