Upper House frets dispatch authority in antipiracy bill

by Masami Ito

The opposition-controlled Upper House began deliberations Wednesday on an antipiracy bill that would create a permanent law enabling the Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect the ships of any nation and ease the ban on the use of force.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc is aiming to enact the bill during the current ordinary Diet session, which is set to close June 3. But with the opposition parties against the bill, the ruling coalition is likely to extend the session to secure its approval.

The Lower House approved the bill April 23. If it is not acted on within 60 days by the upper chamber, it will be returned to the Lower House, which can pass it into law with a second overriding vote sometime after June 22.

The government and the ruling bloc, led by Prime Minister Taro Aso, are eager to enact the bill to join the international community in taking measures against pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.

“Piracy is a life-or-death matter that threatens Japan’s interests of securing the safety of marine transport,” Aso told an Upper House plenary session Wednesday morning. “I would like the antipiracy bill, which would enable the MSDF to take appropriate and effective measures against pirate acts (to protect) the vessels regardless of nationality.”

While the Democratic Party of Japan agrees on the importance of establishing an antipiracy bill, the largest opposition force wants to ensure there is prior Diet approval for any MSDF dispatch on an antipiracy mission.

The government-sponsored bill only requires that the prime minister report an outline of the dispatch to the Diet, including why it is necessary, where it is taking place and how long it will last.

“In democratic countries, the Diet’s involvement against military activities is earnestly deliberated,” DPJ lawmaker Naoki Kazama said. “The Diet should carefully examine the MSDF’s antipiracy missions every time there is the need for a deployment to prepare for the unexpected.”

The government and ruling bloc rejected this idea during deliberations in the Lower House, arguing the government may need to dispatch the MSDF at short notice.