Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has instructed the relevant cabinet ministers to give serious consideration to dispatching the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to secure safe passage for Japan-related vessels in the waterways of the Middle East.
Based on the provisions on “surveys and research” in the Act for the Establishment of the Ministry of Defense, Japan will independently dispatch Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ships and patrol aircraft before year-end at the earliest.
Japan will not participate in the U.S.-led coalition of the willing (maritime security initiative) that aims to secure safety in the Strait of Hormuz.
We support the fact that the government has initiated action to dispatch the SDF, which will lead to the safety of sea lanes in the very critical waterways of the Middle East. Japan should obviously protect its own vessels. We cannot help but question, however, the government stance of excluding the critical Strait of Hormuz. It is imperative that the deployment be an effective one.
The aim of the mobilization of the SDF is to strengthen its information-gathering framework. It is not envisioned that the SDF will escort Japanese ships immediately. The SDF will operate in the following waters: the Gulf of Oman, the open sea in the northern part of the Arabian Sea, and the open sea in the eastern part of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait off the coast of Yemen. The Strait of Hormuz is not included. Defense Minister Taro Kono said, “For now we will consider the matter within these parameters.”
The site of the June attack on two oil tankers, including one operated by a Japanese company, was the Gulf of Oman. To say that the SDF will not survey the Strait of Hormuz itself because the Gulf of Oman is included is illogical. Day after day, Japanese tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, where tensions are high. This is the waterway that the SDF needs to collect information on the most.
Japan must not get its priorities wrong out of fear of irritating Iran. If Japan eliminates the important waterways of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, our nation’s intent to protect its vessels may be questioned and the SDF troops dispatched could even be ridiculed.
When SDF are dispatched under the “surveys and research” provisions in the Act for the Establishment of the Ministry of Defense, personnel cannot use weapons to protect commercial vessels related to Japan. The government says that the situation does not require the SDF to escort ships immediately, but we would like to see the government make preparations so the SDF can engage in rescue activities if the situation were to suddenly change. If a foreign ship were to be in crisis near an SDF vessel, it could not stand by idly without offering help. Japan should consider responses in advance, including being ready to issue an order for maritime patrol operations.
It would have been better [for Japan] to join the coalition of the willing from the start. The government says it will be in close contact with the United States even if Japan does not participate in the initiative. If that is the case, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry should do their utmost to negotiate with the U.S. so that a situation where the U.S. does not provide adequate information to the SDF is avoided. It goes without saying that the SDF should supply information to the U.S.