All national papers front-paged press remarks made on Tuesday by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Dunford reportedly noted that the U.S. has been in contact with allied nations about the launch of a coalition of the willing to ensure the safety of ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen. The general indicated that while the U.S. would provide “command and control” ships, coalition members would escort their countries’ commercial vessels under the proposal. He reportedly said: “The expectation is that the actual patrolling and escort would be done by others.” The dailies interpreted the remarks as meaning that the Trump administration is likely to ask Japan and other allies dependent on oil supplies from the Middle East to take on greater responsibility for the safety of shipping in the region. Mainichi speculated that while the U.S. military would perhaps not hesitate to take a leading role in the proposed coalition, it will probably opt for a “supporting role” out of deference to President Trump, who has insisted that countries which import oil from the region should be at the forefront of safeguarding waters near the Strait of Hormuz. The dailies added that the U.S. idea is meant to highlight the international community’s unity against Iran.
The dailies said the GOJ has not yet been asked to join the coalition, quoting a number of sources as saying: “No official proposal has yet been made by the U.S. side.” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nogami stopped short of commenting on the U.S. proposal, simply saying: “Japan and the U.S are in close communication…. Safety of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz is critically important to ensure Japan’s energy security.”
According to the articles, a present consensus within the GOJ reportedly holds that a dispatch of SDF warships for patrol operations in the region would be difficult at the moment since attacks on commercial tankers have been infrequent. Legal hurdles also reportedly stand in the way of Japan’s dispatching assets to the region. The dailies explained that while the comprehensive security laws allow the SDF to provide logistics support to a multinational coalition in certain circumstances, such operations would be possible only when the UN Security Council enacts a relevant resolution, which does not exist at present. As the current circumstances in the region also do not constitute a situation that could have a serious impact on Japan’s peace and security, the SDF would not be able to offer logistics support to the U.S. military. Diverting SDF ships currently engaged in the multilateral anti-piracy mission off the Somalian coast for the proposed patrol in the Arabian Sea is also believed to be impossible since the law governing the operation stipulates that the mission is limited to combating pirates. Japan’s participation in a U.S.-led coalition near the Persian Gulf would also probably damage its friendly bilateral ties with Iran, say the papers.