Japan should never deviate from its intended role even at the urging of an ally.
During his first visit to Japan on Aug. 7, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya and called on Japan to consider joining a “coalition of the willing” to protect shipping in and around the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East.
Iwaya cited Japan’s need to secure a stable supply of crude oil, relations with the United States and friendly ties with Iran, and said the government will examine the matter from every aspect before making a comprehensive judgment.
Japan now has a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer and patrol aircraft deployed off Somalia as protection against piracy. To avoid provoking Iran, the government is said to be considering reassigning them to the Gulf of Oman outside the Persian Gulf, rather than dispatching a new fleet.
As a legal basis for this move, the government has in mind the anti-piracy law as well as the maritime security operation provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law. However, these arguments come across as nothing more than a contrived measure to justify the dispatch.
The government is bound to choose a wrong path so long as it adheres to passive thinking that nonaction is not an option, instead of objectively analyzing the situation and calculating gains and losses.
Any SDF dispatch at U.S. urging, no matter what form it takes, will be seen by Iran as proof of Japan participating in a U.S.-led coalition.
Japan’s relations with Iran will deteriorate for certain, and that may well wipe out the diplomatic asset Japan has built over many years of friendship with Iran while remaining a U.S. ally.
Following his visit to Tehran in June, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coordinating another meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in September.
Japan is in a position to mediate between the United States and Iran and call for both countries to negotiate a detente. Should Japan lose this invaluable status, the result will spell a loss for everyone concerned.
The United States has yet to define the exact nature of the envisaged coalition. It has held three briefings to date, but Britain is about the only major nation that has expressed a firm commitment. Germany, which supports the Iran nuclear deal, has decided against participation.
Japan, too, is in support of this agreement, distancing itself from the Trump administration, which has arbitrarily withdrawn from it.
Japan relies on crude imports from the Middle East, and there is no question that maritime security in the region is of critical importance for the country. Still, Japan must figure out, rationally and objectively, what is best for itself.
When the Diet debated on national security legislation that opened the way for Japan’s partial exercise of the right to collective self-defense, one focal point of contention was whether Japan would be in a position to reject demands of the United States, a country with a track record of starting wrong wars.
Abe responded that Japan would make its own judgment.
Is Japan capable of acting in accordance with its own interests as well as those of the entire international community, never mind what its ally asks?
The nation’s ability to make its own judgment is now being tested.