Asahi reported on Tuesday that some MOD and SDF officials are uneasy about the Abe administration’s plan to apply a provision of the Defense Ministry Establishment Act when sending MSDF assets to the Middle East to protect Japanese commercial vessels in the region. As the clause in question authorizes the ministry to conduct “research and study” for official duties, the GOJ has invoked it several times in the past to justify the mobilization of SDF units. Some legal experts have voiced doubts about invoking the article to commit defense assets overseas. MSDF officials are reportedly concerned that under the provision, the use of weapons would be severely restricted even if the warship or Japanese commercial vessels were threatened. The daily added that an MSDF warship will be dispatched to the region after SDF planes conduct patrol operations.
In a related article, Tuesday’s Nikkei highlighted Japan’s plan to operate an MSDF ship or patrol planes in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the passage between Yemen and Somalia, but not in the Strait of Hormuz. The article explained that most of the Strait of Hormuz is made up of territorial waters of Iran and Oman and that neither nation regards the narrow strait to be “international waters” as designated by the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, which allows “innocent passage” of foreign ships. As the Iranians have strongly opposed Japan’s possible participation in the U.S. initiative to launch a multinational coalition to protect the sea lanes through the Strait of Hormuz, the GOJ is reportedly hesitant to operate its military assets in the area.