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Editorial: Gov’t failed to consider Mideast situation shift in MSDF deployment decision

  • January 11, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

Two Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) planes left Japan on Jan. 11 for the Middle East as part of MSDF assets deployed to the region to ensure the safety of Japan-related vessels. The deployment was based on an order issued by Defense Minister Taro Kono a day earlier.

However, the government should review its decision. The reason is simple and obvious: The Middle East situation has changed drastically since the deployment was approved at a Cabinet meeting at the end of 2019.


The two MSDF P-3C patrol planes will conduct maritime monitoring activities as part of an anti-piracy mission, and an escort vessel will begin gathering intelligence in the Gulf of Oman starting in late February.


Tokyo chose not to join a U.S.-led coalition outright, and will instead cooperate on information-gathering in a bid to maintain good relations with both Washington and Japan’s other allies. MSDF personnel will not operate in the Strait of Hormuz or further into the Persian Gulf to avoid provoking Iran, with which Japan has maintained friendly ties.


However, the facts on the ground in the Middle East have changed dramatically since the United States killed Iran’s top general in a targeted attack at the beginning of January. Although a cycle of retaliation between the U.S. and Iran may have been avoided for now, tensions in the area remain high.


The deployment of MSDF personnel by Japan, which is a U.S. ally, could provoke a backlash from countries in the region. In such a situation, there are fears that Japan-related commercial vessels and MSDF personnel could be targeted by insurgents. If the situation worsens, U.S. Presidents Donald Trump could furthermore strongly urge that nearby MSDF personnel extend support to U.S. troops operating in the Middle East.


The government should scrutinize whether the bases for its decision to deploy MSDF troops to the Middle East on a research and survey mission — based on the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Defense — are still valid.


Moreover, the government has failed to sufficiently explain to the public why Japan needs to dispatch troops to the region now.


The deployment on a research and survey mission, which does not legally need approval from the Diet, is inconsistent with such a serious political decision that could involve MSDF personnel in an armed conflict overseas. Diet discussions on the deployment are essential, as civilian control of the force by the legislature comprising representatives of the Japanese people.


The government deserves criticism that the executive branch of the government evaded deliberations on the issue by the legislative branch, based on the fact that the Cabinet approved the deployment after an extraordinary Diet session came to a close and the defense minister issued the deployment order before the regular Diet session.


The MSDF escort vessel is expected to leave Japan for the Middle East sometime after Feb. 2. At the regular Diet session set to convene on Jan. 20, legislators should thoroughly discuss the deployment and consider how to respond to the Middle East situation, including the possibility of canceling the dispatch.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Tokyo on Jan. 11 on a tour of three pro-U.S. countries in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman — in an apparent effort to win their understanding of the deployment. Abe is also looking to secure permission from Oman for the MSDF escort vessel to use the country’s ports and other facilities.


We fear that Japan’s deployment of MSDF personnel in such a situation could pour cold water on Tokyo’s previous diplomatic efforts to maintain friendly relations with Tehran.


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