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Editorial: Diet debate a must before sending SDF to the Middle East

  • December 4, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:10 p.m.
  • English Press

Dispatching Self-Defense Forces personnel overseas is not only a huge deal in itself, but its gravity is further augmented if the troops are going to the highly volatile Middle East, where anything can happen.

 

This is something the Abe administration and the ruling coalition must definitely not be allowed to decide and proceed with on their own. Before they make any hasty move, the matter must be put before the Diet for thorough deliberation.

 

The government is hoping to obtain Cabinet approval for the mission before the year-end, with the aim of dispatching a Maritime SDF destroyer to the Persian Gulf as early as January.

 

The government also plans to divert one of the two P-3C patrol aircraft, currently engaged in anti-piracy duties off the Somali coast, to the Middle Eastern waters on a new mission.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have only heightened since President Donald Trump arbitrarily pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

 

Tokyo is trying hard not to provoke Tehran, by refraining from joining the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” and stressing that it is going solo with the planned SDF dispatch to the Middle Eastern waters.

 

However, Tokyo’s policy is to maintain a close intelligence-sharing relationship with the coalition. And depending on how the situation unfolds, this could come across as siding with Washington.

 

The Asahi Shimbun has repeatedly asserted in its editorials that all the nations concerned must aim for detente through dialogue and diplomacy, and that Japan, which has traditionally remained on amicable terms with Iran and is also an ally of America, ought to play the role of active mediator.

 

We oppose the planned SDF dispatch to the Middle East, as it goes against what we believe in.

 

And we have grave doubts about the validity of government’s reasons for the dispatch.

 

The government claims that since the purpose is to beef up intelligence-gathering in Middle Eastern waters, not to protect Japanese vessels, the dispatch falls under the category of “inspection and research activities” under the law concerning the establishment of the Defense Ministry.

 

As such, the dispatch does not require the Diet’s approval, and the decision is left entirely to the discretion of the defense minister.

 

We must say this is nothing short of a “liberal interpretation of the law” to effectively undercut the existing constraints on SDF activities.

 

Thus, Cabinet approval is redundant for the planned dispatch. But the government is seeking it anyway because Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is balking at the planned deployment, and Cabinet approval would give the needed semblance of “unanimity” within the ruling coalition.

 

But that does not resolve anything as the government has regarded the SDF dispatch as a foregone conclusion.

 

The government explains that the current situation in the Middle East is such that Japanese vessels are in no urgent need of protection. Then, what’s the rush?

 

The only possible explanation is that the Abe administration is eager to demonstrate cooperation with Washington by effectively coordinating the deployment with the coalition of the willing that is already active in the area.

 

Once the troops have been sent, any decision to recall them will not be easy to make. The only chance to stop and think is now.

 

At this major milestone, the government must not be allowed to avoid a debate in the Diet. The current Diet session will go into recess on Dec. 9, but there has been no serious debate on the SDF dispatch yet.

 

The Diet session must be extended to discuss Japan’s options in earnest. All legislators owe that to the people who have elected them as their representatives.

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