The Cabinet on Tuesday confirmed that contentious security laws will take effect on March 29, but Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has decided the Self-Defense Forces won’t take on some of the new roles they make available until all the details are in place.
The laws, passed by the Diet six months ago after more than 114 hours of deliberation, will allow Japan to exercise the U.N. right to collective self-defense under limited circumstances when the nation’s existence is threatened.
Article 9 of the Constitution had long been interpreted by the government as limiting Japan’s use of force strictly to self-defense, and as banning the use of collective self-defense. But Abe’s Cabinet has declared this interpretation defunct in 2014.
The laws will also expand the scope of logistic support missions the SDF can conduct, such as providing ammunition to foreign forces other than the U.S. military.
Despite the considerable political capital the Abe administration spent on passing the bills, the SDF will not be ready to step into some of the new roles, Nakatani said, including those designated part of U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO).
The bills amended the PKO law to let SDF personnel on PKO missions rescue civilians, such as those working for nongovernmental organizations, and soldiers of foreign militaries who come under attack.
The SDF is expected to continue its PKO mission in South Sudan, where Japanese troops have been serving six-month rotations with the United Nations Missions in Sudan (UNMISS) since 2012.
Yet Nakatani emphasized that those in place and those to be dispatched between May and June will not engage in the new PKO activities because the government had not yet hammered out new rules of engagement, which determine how Japanese troops can respond to armed attacks.
Nakatani also said the SDF cannot be trained up for such missions before May and the Defense Ministry has not yet decided if such a capability will be achievable after fall.
Peacetime protection of assets belonging to Japanese allies, such as U.S. vessels, will also be put on hold, he said.
The activities were inserted into the revised Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines almost a year ago, when the two allies conducted their first revision in 18 years. But Nakatani said the SDF won’t be ready to carry out such missions because the two sides are still working out the details.
In the meantime, Nakatani said plans are still underway to permanently deploy Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptor batteries at the ministry by March 2017 as North Korea’s provocative nuclear and missile tests continue.
Japan usually trots out the PAC-3 units during each threatened missile launch as a show of defense, but the ministry has earmarked about ¥900 million in the fiscal 2016 budget for permanent batteries.
Nakatani confirmed the plan one day after perpetually defiant Pyongyang launched five missiles into waters off its east coast, just days after launching two suspected Nodong missiles toward Japan.
Nakatani said the interceptor missiles had been deployed at the Defense Ministry since Friday, as well as at Camp Asaka in Tokyo and Camp Narashino in Chiba.