U.K. hopes SDF efforts continue

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

Britain hopes Japan will continue to provide support for antiterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean, a senior British official told a recent defense conference in London, amid fears that the Maritime Self-Defense Force flotilla could be withdrawn.

Britain also values Japan’s growing role in helping to reconstruct former war zones and expects it will continue to contribute to global peace and security, said Teresa Jones, director of policy and defense relations (south) at the British Ministry of Defense.

Since 2001, the MSDF has been refueling vessels, including those from Britain and the United States, in the Indian Ocean. The vessels are engaged in interdiction operations to prevent terrorist supplies reaching Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

However, the MSDF’s future assistance has been thrown into doubt since the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition lost control of the Upper House. Extending the law to allow it to continue to operate in the Indian Ocean is contentious and the opposition camp could veto the plan.

“I hope that, despite the political differences, a way can be found for this role to be extended,” Jones told a recent conference on Anglo-Japanese relations.

The Constitution essentially limits the Self-Defense Forces to defending Japan and participating in U.N.-backed peacekeeping operations.

Over the last few years, the Diet has passed several controversial laws to allow the SDF to participate in reconstruction and support activities near combat zones.

Jones described the SDF’s reconstruction mission in southern Iraq between 2004 and 2006 as “invaluable” and “absolutely critical to winning the hearts and minds” of the local population. Britain was in overall charge of the area where the SDF troops were based.

She welcomed a recent fact-finding mission by the Japanese government to Afghanistan and noted that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had agreed recently on the need for continued civilian reconstruction efforts in the troubled country.

Koji Tomita, political minister at the Japanese Embassy in London, said Japan’s growing role in global security stemmed from greater uncertainties in the world as a result of the end of the Cold War and the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001.

He said the current situation in the Diet might also make it difficult for Japan to continue its now-limited airlift operations in Iraq.

The Air Self-Defense Force has been providing airlift assistance from Kuwait to Iraq, but the Diet’s approval is required each year and it is doubtful whether enough political support will be forthcoming this time round.

Tomita told the audience there is now a “very strong case” for a single law to be introduced to permit the SDF to be dispatched on peace-building missions overseas.

This would dispense with the need to enact fresh laws for each new mission and the requirement for annual reviews by the Diet, which leave operations on an uncertain footing, Tomita added.

The “U.K.-Japan Defense and Security Cooperation: Past and Future” conference at the Royal United Services Institute is one of several events to fete the 150th anniversary of formal relations between the two countries.