Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his case again Wednesday for enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, amid discussions between the Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner New Komeito on security scenarios that would require Japan to defend the U.S. and other friendly nations.
It was the first Diet debate on collective self-defense since Abe officially announced on May 15 that the government would review the country’s defense posture with a view to bolstering Japan’s U.S. alliance.
“We need to establish our defense more seamlessly to enhance our deterrent power to protect lives and assets of the Japanese people,” Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee.
Although some fear the country may be dragged into an unwanted military conflict if its defense posture is altered, Abe has sought to dispel such concerns by emphasizing his backing for so-called limited collective self-defense, saying that Japan should be able to defend other nations only when peace, stability and national interest would be threatened by inaction.
Abe appears eager to see new guidelines on Japan-U.S. defense cooperation — due to be completed by the end of this year — to reflect this notion of a “limited” enhancement.
Scenarios presented by Abe’s government on Tuesday included cases in which Japan would be called on to defend U.S. vessels transporting Japanese nationals fleeing conflict, presumably in the Korean Peninsula, as well as joint mine sweeping operations on critical sea lanes such as the Straight of Hormuz, which more than 80 percent of tankers carrying petroleum to Japan pass through.
Abe emphasized that Japan would not be able to participate in such missions unless the country is able to exercise the right to collective self-defense. He also implied that the vessels the country’s Self-Defense Forces may be called on to defend would not be limited to U.S. military vessels or ships carrying Japanese nationals.
“We cannot compile operational plans with our counterparts saying we cannot defend ships that aren’t carrying Japanese nationals when other countries defend ships that transporting Japanese citizens,” Abe said.
On Tuesday, the government began considering 16 scenarios that might highlight legal and procedural problems in Japan’s defense strategy amid Asia’s rapidly shifting regional security environment, with China’s burgeoning military prowess and North Korea’s unabated nuclear ambitions.
The scenarios included four so-called gray zone events — which fall short of full-fledged military attack — four international peacekeeping-related scenarios and eight other instance that may require Japan to use military force.
An earlier report by a panel Abe commissioned to examine the collective self-defense issue recommended that the country’s self-imposed ban on the joint use of force should be scrapped, as it would limit the nation’s role in international peacekeeping operations. Japan is currently unable to refuel U.S. aircraft after takeoff during combat missions as such action is interpreted as a use of force. Although Abe did not explicitly support that position, he said the government should review what constitutes the joint use of force. LDP lawmakers are also keen on changing this notion so that Japan can expand its logistical support for the U.S as well as during peacekeeping missions.
Previous governments have said that three conditions must be met before the SDF can take military action. There must be an imminent or actual invasion of Japanese territory, no other means available to repel the invasion, and the use of force must be kept to a minimum and exercised only when absolutely necessary.
Abe said it is possible those conditions may be revised following any changes in the nation’s position on collective self-defense