Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he wants to discuss granting the Self-Defense Forces a mandate to evacuate Japanese nationals from crises overseas.
His comments came on the heels of filmed beheadings of two Japanese citizens by Islamic State extremists.
Abe has long argued the SDF should be given greater roles to defend the lives of Japanese overseas by removing strict legal restrictions on its operations. His efforts have raised concerns among liberal pacifists in Japan.
He told the Upper House Budget Committee on Monday it is important to consider such changes for the SDF’s mandate given the events of the past two weeks. He said it is his duty to protect the lives of Japanese nationals worldwide, describing himself as the “chief executive” of that assignment.
However, Abe said Japan will not join the coalition conducting airstrikes on Islamic State targets, and neither will it aid the effort with logistics support.
“At this stage, even if Japanese nationals, including members of nongovernmental organizations, are in danger overseas, (the SDF) can’t rescue them, even with consent from countries involved,” Abe said. “I want to discuss ways to enable the rescue” of Japanese citizens overseas.
He added that there are many Japanese workers with nongovernmental organizations working around the world. “We will consider the possibility of using arms to eliminate danger and to rescue” these individuals and others, he said.
Abe is set to submit new security-related bills to the Diet this spring, possibly including one designed to allow the SDF to deploy units to rescue Japanese citizens overseas during emergencies.
The change would allow the SDF to deploy to foreign nations with their consent in order to rescue Japanese citizens in trouble.
But this would probably have been insufficient to secure the release of the hostages in the latest crisis. Journalist Kenji Goto and self-styled security contractor Haruna Yukawa were being held by a nonstate actor in a location where the national government — either Syria or Iraq — had little control and it might have been impossible to gain the consent of local authorities for deployment.
In addition, dispatching SDF personnel on such a hostage rescue mission would increase the likelihood of Japan being dragged into war, experts say.
The planned security bills also include legislation based on the Cabinet’s controversial decision last year to reinterpret the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to allow the nation to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack.
Abe said Monday he sees no need to pose a geographical limit to exercising the right, meaning that as long as a situation meets the government’s criteria, the SDF may be dispatched anywhere worldwide.
Asked about whether acting in collective self-defense might make Japan a target for terrorism, he replied that the overriding factor is the nation’s responsibility as a member of the international community to join efforts to rid the world of terrorism.
“Basically, we will push ahead with ‘proactive pacifism’ to realize a world without terrorism,” he said, adding that the important thing is not to worry about what terrorists would think but to secure the peace and stability of the Middle East, Japan’s primary source of petroleum.
“No country can escape from the threat of terrorism,” he said. “That’s why the international community needs to cooperate and share information to combat it.”
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito camp plan to start discussions on the content of the security legislation this month.