Two bills to implement the new Japanese-U.S. defense guidelines were presented Friday to the ruling tripartite alliance, paving the way for the Self-Defense Forces to take unprecedented military roles in contingencies in areas surrounding Japan.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its two small non-Cabinet allies — the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake — will soon discuss details of the bills for possible submission to the current Diet session by the end of this month.

Because the bills includes controversial elements, such as possibility of SDF acting with the U.S. military as one body, and of forced use of local facilities by the state, the legislation is likely to spur heated debates, with the SDP and other members of the ruling block opposing to what they consider unconstitutional elements.

The Constitution prohibits Japan from resorting to force in solving international conflicts. But the defense guidelines, revised last fall, urge better cooperation between troops from the U.S. and the SDF in contingencies in areas surrounding Japan.

Tentatively named “the law concerning implementation to ensure peace and security of Japan in situations in surrounding areas,” one bill is directed at allowing SDF units to extend their military roles in backing U.S. forces in rear areas. The other bill deals with revising the current SDF Law to allow for the evacuation of Japanese civilians abroad.

The SDF would be able to send ships, along with helicopters, overseas for Japanese noncombatant evacuation operations. Revision of the SDF Law would also allow SDF officers to use weapons that provide the minimum force necessary to protect themselves and the lives of Japanese nationals overseas in such circumstances.

The legislation features three key pillars: logistic support; search and rescue activities; and inspection of ships. Logistic support by the SDF would be conducted in Japanese territories, in the form of provision of materials, excluding weapons and ammunitions, maintenance, communications and use of facilities, according to the proposed legislation. Although the legislation prohibits the SDF from directly giving fuel to U.S. military planes that are ready to depart for combat, it doesn’t stop the SDF from indirectly supplying petroleum to such fighters.

The bills would also allow the SDF to act in and over international waters during such rear area support activities as transportation, medical treatment of casualties, search and rescue operations, and inspection of ships.

In defining “rear areas,” apart from Japanese territories, the guidelines stipulate that a clear line should be drawn from battlefields. But the proposed legislation maintains that rear areas must be acknowledged as places where combat is not expected while the SDF engages in logistic support.

Should the prime minister acknowledge the need for the SDF and the government offices concerned to act in contingency situations, the prime minister must convene a Cabinet meeting to decide on a basic implementation plan. The proposed legislation is designed to spare the need for the Diet approval to approve the basic plan. Only after the plan is drafted or altered, the prime minister would be required to report it to the Diet without delay.

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