SDF role in multinational force confirmed

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The government formally decided Thursday to have the Self-Defense Forces participate in a U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq, which will be formed on the basis of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

It will mark the first time for the 50-year-old SDF, whose overseas activities have been severely restricted by the war-renouncing Constitution, to participate in a multinational force based on a U.N. resolution.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stressed in a news conference Thursday that the SDF’s participation in the multinational force will not violate the Constitution because its missions in Iraq will be limited to humanitarian and reconstruction activities.

He said Japan will adhere to four principles to ensure that the SDF’s participation does not violate the Constitution.

The principles state that the SDF:

* Will not use military force.

* Will operate only in noncombat zones.

* Will work on the basis of an existing law for the SDF dispatch to Iraq.

* Will keep its troops fully under Japan’s own chain of command and not the commander of the U.S.-led multinational force.

“We’d like to observe these four points,” Koizumi said.

The pacifist Constitution prohibits Japan from using force as means of settling international disputes.

According to the government’s interpretation, however, Japan may participate in a U.N.-mandated multinational force as long as its troops’ activities do not become “an integral part” of combatant operations.

Yet opposition lawmakers claim that it is difficult to draw a line between combat missions and logistic support.

The U.N. resolution in question also states that the multinational force will be “under unified command.” This has raised concerns that the SDF could be inseparably integrated with the whole multinational force, whose main mission is to maintain security and stability — a remit that will involve the use of force.

In the “official” Japanese translation of the U.N. resolution, the government has put its own spin on the document’s explanation of who is in charge.

The government has translated the English phrase “unified command” as “unified headquarters.” It claims that this does not necessarily mean that control over the whole multinational force will be integrated.

Koizumi had stressed his determination to have the SDF join the multinational force during a summit meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush earlier this month.

A senior government official said the presence of the SDF in Iraq itself represents key symbolic support for the U.S., Japan’s No. 1 ally.

“Just Japan’s being in Iraq is politically important,” said the government official, who asked to remain anonymous.

The official also said that Japan is trying to secure favorable relations with both the United States and Arab nations, including Iraqi people.

To have legal backing to participate in the multinational force, Tokyo managed to have “humanitarian and reconstruction assistance” listed as missions of the U.S.-led force. The missions are stated in U.N. Resolution 1546.

Based on the U.N. resolution, Koizumi declared that the SDF will be able to work as “a member of” the multinational force and continue its humanitarian activities in Iraq after the June 30 transfer of the sovereignty to Iraqi people.

Plan endorsed: envoy

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ryozo Kato said Wednesday that Washington has endorsed Japan’s plan to put Self-Defense Forces troops under its own command if they participate in a multinational force in Iraq.

Kato told reporters that SDF troops are not an exceptional case because each country has a different legal basis for its dispatch of troops to a U.N.-authorized multinational force that will be formed after the June 30 transfer of power to the interim Iraqi government.

Japan has dispatched SDF troops to Iraq on humanitarian and reconstruction missions. The Japanese government plans to make them part of the envisaged multinational force.