Permanent SDF overseas dispatch law to be mulled

Kyodo News

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tuesday he has agreed with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba to discuss passing a permanent law that would allow the Self-Defense Forces to be sent abroad for international cooperation activities.

Machimura added he and his two colleagues reaffirmed they will continue to meet periodically to discuss the general law following the expected passage of a temporary bill for resuming the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling mission in the Indian Ocean as well as other security issues.

“We have not yet decided how to handle (the planned legislation),” Machimura said. “But speaking of a general law, Prime Minister (Yasuo) Fukuda has strongly asserted the need for it, as I recall, from the time he was chief Cabinet secretary.”

Fukuda, who became prime minister last September, was chief Cabinet secretary from October 2000 to May 2004, during which the government set up an office to study a possible permanent law for sending the SDF abroad on international peacekeeping missions, including those not authorized by the United Nations.

A permanent law is being eyed to allow Japan to continue the refueling mission in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism activities in and around Afghanistan after the temporary law expires in a year. The temporary law may be passed this weekend.

A bill to put permanent legislation in place is expected to be submitted to the Diet during the regular session that convenes Jan. 18 or during an extraordinary session in the fall.

Machimura, however, said it is “too early” to say when the government hopes to have the Diet enact a general law, saying it will take time to come up with the details, including SDF members’ use of weapons.

New Komeito, the Liberal Democratic Party’s partner in the ruling bloc, has called for careful discussions on the need for such a law — a politically sensitive issue in light of the war-renouncing Constitution.

Currently, the SDF can be sent abroad only under an existing law concerning cooperation with U.N. peacekeeping operations or when a special law is enacted for specific purposes, such as the Indian Ocean mission.

“Using the current special laws has been one method, but there have been various criticisms, such as that it lacks swiftness,” Machimura said.

The MSDF withdrew from the Indian Ocean in November after the previous special law allowing the mission expired in the face of opposition parties’ resistance.

The government-proposed bill for a one-year special law enabling the MSDF to resume the mission has stalled in the opposition-controlled House of Councilors but is expected to be passed on the strength of the ruling coalition’s comfortable majority in the more powerful House of Representatives.

The Lower House passed the bill Nov. 13 with support from the ruling camp, and it can vote the bill into law even if the Upper House votes it down or doesn’t vote on it at all.