The Islamic State’s execution of two Japanese hostages has intensified discussion of whether the Self-Defense Forces should be allowed to use weapons in rescuing nationals overseas.
The government wants to allow the SDF to engage in armed international policing under certain conditions, such as securing the consent of the country concerned, and will submit legislation to this effect.
But many lawmakers across the Diet remain cautious about such a move because they fear the SDF would end up exercising force, which is banned under the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, if troops come under attack and have to return fire.
On Tuesday, Abe told a meeting of the House of Councilors Budget Committee that the government is preparing a legal amendment to make it possible for Japan to exercise police authority in situations in which there is consent from the host country and where there is no paramilitary rebel force present.
“The use of weapons would be possible,” Abe said.
As part of a decision made at a Cabinet meeting in July last year regarding the national security legislation, the government unveiled plans to consider allowing the SDF to use weapons for the rescue of Japanese nationals in foreign countries.
The government said in a statement on the Cabinet decision that the use of weapons should be allowed only in “the area within which the consent of the territorial state’s government is valid” and only when “a state or a quasi-state organization does not appear as the adversary.”
Abe’s remarks on Tuesday were apparently based on this Cabinet decision.
The prime minister also expressed his eagerness to revise war-renouncing Article 9 on Tuesday.
“Our party has already drafted a revision to Article 9,” Abe told the budget committee meeting, referring to the Liberal Democratic Party.
“Why do we want to revise it? Because we have a duty to protect the people and their property,” he said.
The LDP draft calls for creating a national defense force, among other amendments.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Upper House Budget Committee on Monday, Abe said it would be difficult for Japan to dispatch the SDF to areas controlled by the Islamic State group.
After 10 Japanese citizens died in a hostage crisis in Algeria in January 2013, Japan revised the SDF law in November that year to allow SDF troops to evacuate Japanese nationals by land in emergencies. Before the revision, SDF troops were allowed to evacuate Japanese citizens only by air or sea.
The focus is now on whether to allow the SDF to use weapons during such missions.
The government hopes to deal with this issue separately from the use of force that would be needed to exercise the right to collective self-defense when three conditions are met, including a situation in which there is a clear existential threat to the nation.
In the statement on the July Cabinet decision, the government said police-like activities by the SDF should not involve the use of force, because of the constraints of Article 9.
“We are not assuming special operations such as those carried out by the U.S. military,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. The official said Japanese troops are not equipped for such operations.
But given the likelihood of attacks by armed groups and the use of weapons in response, the possibility of the SDF going into combat cannot be ruled out.
Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner, is resolved to put the brakes on the use of weapons by the SDF in discussions within the ruling coalition.
“Calm and careful discussions are needed,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told a press conference on Tuesday.
LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki said: “We need to sort out (the points for) discussions properly, rather than becoming too aggressive.”
The Democratic Party of Japan and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) have not ruled out such talks.
But DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano has expressed caution on the matter, saying: “This is an issue of Japan providing help to other countries’ exercise of police authority.”
The Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party strongly oppose the SDF’s use of weapons, warning that this would lead to exchanges of fire. The Party for Future Generations supports Abe’s policy.