Two controversial bills needed for Japan and the United States to better cope with military emergencies in areas surrounding Japan were authorized Tuesday by the Cabinet, despite opposition from within the tripartite ruling bloc.

Later in the morning, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright signed a pact to revise the Japan-U.S. Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in Tokyo. The revised ACSA will enable Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to provide the U.S. Armed Forces with rear-area support in the event of military conflicts in areas surrounding Japan.

Since Japan and the U.S. updated the bilateral defense cooperation guidelines last fall, Tokyo has been urged to take legislative measures to back the U.S. forces.

With Cabinet approval, the bills were submitted to the Diet later in the day. However, it is uncertain when the bills will clear the Diet to become law. With various items of economic legislation still pending, it is almost impossible that the Diet will pass the defense bills before the current session ends in mid-June.

One bill concerns new legislation on measures to ensure the peace and safety of Japan in case of military emergencies in surrounding areas. The other addresses the revision of the SDF law, so that aircraft as well as ships and ship-based helicopters can be dispatched at the request of the foreign minister to evacuate Japanese civilians overseas.

The first legislation stipulates items necessary for Japan to implement in order to deal with “situations in areas surrounding Japan that will severely affect the security of Japan.”

But the items that will be covered by that category are still ambiguous. While the geographic scope of the guidelines and related legislation remains unexplained, “rear area” is defined only as “where combat is not taking place and not expected” when the SDF engages in logistic activities outside areas surrounding Japan.

These have raised concern that the SDF may act with U.S. forces as one body and therefore is more likely to be involved in military conflicts overseas. An act of collective defense is prohibited under the Constitution.

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