The Abe Cabinet on April 19 endorsed a bill to revise the Self-Defense Forces Law to allow SDF members to use land vehicles to rescue and transport Japanese and other nationals caught in an emergency overseas.
The government hopes that the Diet will enact the bill in its current session.
At present, the SDF Law only allows use of ships and aircraft in such an operation. The government wrote the bill in response to the seizure of a natural gas complex in Ain Amenas in the Sahara desert in Algeria in January by Islamic militants, in which 10 Japanese were killed. But one wonders whether the revision will be really useful. There even is the possibility of putting both civilians and SDF members in harm’s way.
Under the revision, the SDF will be able to use not only ships and aircraft but also land vehicles to transport Japanese and other nationals trapped in an emergency situation abroad. It is expected that the vehicles to be used will include armored vehicles.
The present law covers Japanese and foreign nationals who need protection in such a situation. The revised law will enable transportation of family members, officials of companies involved, doctors, Japanese government officials, and others as well. The SDF will be allowed to carry out a rescue and transport operation only when safety is confirmed after expected dangers and the means to avert them are fully considered.
The current law limits the means of transport to be used by the SDF to ships and aircraft because ports and airports are usually located in fairly safe places. In the case of the hostage crisis in Algeria, a government plane transported rescued hostages and the bodies of victims out of an Algiers airport.
What happened in Algeria offers a glimpse of a similar crisis that may happen in the future. The Algerian government provided very little information. Japan should expect that the same will happen in a similar future crisis.
Generally speaking, a foreign government will not allow SDF land vehicles such as armored vehicles to move inside its territories.
The hostage crisis in Algeria occurred in an inland desert area. In addition, the area is beset with tribal and religious rivalry. It is logical to think that a rescue and transport operation by SDF members would have been extremely difficult in such an area because the SDF almost has no knowledge about it.
The real motive for revising the SDF Law may be the government and the Liberal Democratic Party’s unfounded desire to just expand the SDF’s activities abroad. More important than the law revision is for companies to collect and analyze information on overseas areas where their employees are working and develop measures in advance to cope with an emergency.
The Foreign Ministry and its diplomatic missions abroad must deepen exchange of information with companies and foreign governments to avert dangers and prepare the best contingency plan in case an emergency happens.