Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks in the Diet last week have reconfirmed that he is intent on expanding the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ military activities overseas, despite his statement on July 1 — the day his Cabinet reinterpreted the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution — that Japan’s use of force should still be restricted to minimum necessary self-defense.
If Japan takes part in collective self-defense in accordance with the Cabinet decision, it could become a target of retaliation by the countries or parties against which its actions are directed. It is deplorable that the prime minister continues to avoid discussing this inherent danger when he talks about collective self-defense. People and lawmakers should be aware of the possibility of such a grave consequence.
During the two-day Diet session, Abe said, “There is no change to the principle that dispatch (of the SDF) on military missions overseas is generally prohibited.” But as long as “generally” is inserted in this phrase, it does not rule out the dispatch of the SDF on such missions. But as long as “generally” is inserted in this phrase, it does not rule out the dispatch of the SDF on such missions. Thus Abe’s words serve as a smokescreen to hide the possibility of the SDF being sent abroad for missions directly related to military conflicts.
Seemingly obsessed with the Hormuz Strait, Abe said Japan can take part in an operation to sweep mines planted there during a military conflict. Participation in such an operation should not be ruled out, he said, because any blocking of the strait — which would impede crude oil supplies from the Middle East — could result in large numbers of bankruptcies and the loss of many jobs in Japan and, in the worst case, critically damage the nation’s manufacturing industry. This explanation alone indicates that the “conditions” that the Abe administration imposes on Japan taking military action overseas are subject to the government’s interpretation of each situation.
A mine-sweeping operation in the Hormuz Strait while fighting continues would be almost meaningless and unrealistic because no tankers would risk passing through the strait while a war was going on in the area.
Abe also says that mine sweeping does not constitute use of force because it is a “passive and limited activity.” But this is not true. Under international law, mine sweeping during a conflict is regarded as an act of combat. Therefore, the party that sowed the mines could take retaliatory action against Japan.
Under the new conditions the Abe administration set in the Cabinet decision, Japan can use minimum necessary force if there is an attack on it or on another country with which it shares close ties, and if there is a “clear danger” that this attack poses a threat to Japan’s survival and that the Japanese people’s “right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is “fundamentally overturned.” Japan would base such use of force in the event of an attack on another country “on the right to collective self-defense under international laws.”
Elaborating on a situation in which an attack on another country fundamentally overturns the Japanese people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, Yusuke Yokobatake, head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, told the Diet that it refers to a situation in which such an attack causes serious and critical damage to Japanese people that is similar to the damage caused by a direct armed attack on Japan.
At first glance, Abe’s case for a mine-sweeping operation in the Hormuz Strait does not appear to meet the criteria set by Yokobatake. If Abe insists that such an operation would meet this criteria, it only serves to underline the fact that the criteria cannot serve as an effective brake on Japan’s military activities overseas.
Concerning the SDF’s logistical support for foreign forces involved in military conflicts overseas, Abe admitted that there may be cases in which SDF members engaged in such a mission may need to use weapons not only for self-defense but also for “executing their duty.”
This is a deviation from the traditional government policy that restricted the use of weapons by SDF members on missions abroad — including support for multinational forces — to self-defense. At the same time, Abe said that SDF members on logistic support missions for a multinational force would immediately withdraw from an area if combat broke out there. But in a real situation, a quick withdrawal would be difficult.
What Abe omits to explain is that his administration is now seeking to enable the SDF to supply weapons and ammunition as part of its logistical support — an act of hostility that could result in attacks on SDF members.
Abe frequently uses the phrase, “It is my responsibility to protect people’s lives and peaceful existence.” Protecting people’ lives is a proposition to which nobody can object, but it can also prevent people from judging the prime minister’s moves in a calm and rational manner. It can also serve as a smoke screen to divert people’s attention from the fact that taking part in collective-self defense operations would entail putting SDF members in a situation in which they may kill, or be killed by, enemy combatants abroad.
Since its inception in 1954, the SDF has not used force to kill anyone, and no SDF members have been killed in action. Japan must not abandon this legacy.
Full explanations of policy decisions are necessary and expected in democracies. Abe must explain all possible consequences of his decision for Japan and its people. Lawmakers and ordinary citizens need to grasp the real consequences of the reinterpretation of Article 9, and take all necessary action — including at the grass-roots level — to reverse his moves.