Japan may expand the Self-Defense Forces’ scope of permitted activities abroad to include refueling and medical support for U.N.-endorsed multinational forces engaged in combat, government and ruling party sources said Wednesday.
Such a major overhaul would signify a clear break from the government’s long-held stance that SDF assistance should be restricted to “noncombat zones” under war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution and could require Tokyo to reinterpret the supreme law.
New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, will likely oppose the move, which experts say could potentially increase the SDF’s overseas operations without setting out clear limits.
A panel of security experts will likely raise the issue of expanding SDF missions abroad in a report next week. The government plans to include the report in its basic policy that will clarify Tokyo’s position on whether Japan should exercise the right to collective self-defense despite the limitations of Article 9, the sources said.
Japan has traditionally prohibited the SDF from giving assistance to foreign military forces operating in combat zones, treating it the same as exercising force, which is banned by Article 9.
Based on that interpretation, the SDF cannot assist foreign troops launching armed strikes against another country when Japan has not been directly attacked.
The provision of fuel, transportation and medical treatment to U.N. multinational forces in combat zones would be considered part of what is known as “collective security” rather than “collective self-defense,” a controversial issue in Japan.
“Unless the SDF assists multinational forces, Japan cannot gain enough support from the international community when faced with an emergency situation,” one government source said.
During the time of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Japan enacted special laws enabling the SDF to provide fuel and transportation to U.S. and other military forces.
The security panel handpicked by Abe is also expected to propose that Japan redefine the “international conflicts” stipulated in Article 9 as only those involving Japan as a major participant, so the SDF can provide support to U.N.-led multinational forces. Currently, the term is interpreted to mean all conflicts.
Abe will use the panel’s report to compile his government’s policy to push for his long-held goal of removing the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense to defend an ally under armed attack.