The Trump administration is looking to form a coalition of the willing to escort vessels sailing in Middle Eastern waters. Initiatives to ensure the safety of maritime transport are important in light of the [recent] series of attacks on tankers. There are also concerns, however, that such a move will heighten military tensions in the region. Japan should hurry to consider what kind of cooperation it should provide.
General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others on July 9, and they confirmed the plan to seek to form a coalition of the willing with the militaries of its allies. Dunford told reporters: “I think probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations support that initiative.”
The standoff between the United States and Iran intensified after the United States government unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal and fortified sanctions. Negotiations to reduce the risk of an accidental collision are not progressing, and a Japanese-operated tanker and other vessels were attacked by someone in June near the Strait of Hormuz.
Japan depends on imports for almost all of its oil, and turmoil in the Middle East, a major producer of oil, has a major impact on the world economy. If a multinational framework can be formed to prevent such crises as the raiding of a tanker or the blockading of the strait, Japan should probably actively consider ways it can contribute.
In the recent call from the U.S. administration, however, can also be seen the aim of increasing pressure on Iran by deploying U.S. and ally troops to the Middle East. If forming a coalition will heighten tensions in the region, it would be the reverse of the intention.
Since the end of the Cold War between the East and the West, Japan has developed legislation each time a conflict occurs, including the Gulf War, the anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. Japan put in place the security legislation out of the realization that it was giving the impression of being backward-looking in relation to international cooperation because its response was always too late.
The legal foundation for Japan’s participation in the coalition will be a problem. “Maritime patrol operations” based on the Self-Defense Forces Act are applicable for Japanese nationals and Japanese vessels. The “Anti-Piracy Measures Law,” which provides for multinational cooperation, does not cover scenarios outside of piracy. First, Japan needs to figure out what it can do under its current laws.
Japan has a peace constitution, which states that it renounces war. It cannot participate in joint operations that solve international conflicts with armed force. Japan needs to again explain its basic position to the United States.
In principle, actions based on a United Nations resolution would be desirable. China is also very dependent on the Middle East for crude oil. Even if actual cooperation is difficult, there is no need to exclude China from the outset. A framework supported by the broadest possible range of countries should be sought.