National / Politics

Minesweeping in Mideast 'OK under changes'

Abe says self-defense shift allows this scenario despite Komeito qualms

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The Cabinet’s recent decision to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution means that Japan would be allowed to engage in a minesweeping operation in the Strait of Hormuz even without a cease-fire in place, as long as three self-imposed legal conditions would be met, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a special Diet session Monday.

Abe was attending the first Diet session following the historic announcement July 1 that the government would reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9.

Abe’s remarks indicate that Maritime Self-Defense Force ships could be dispatched to a minesweeping operation in support of an ally should a country such as Iran attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz — through which about 80 percent of crude oil exports to Japan pass.

The minesweeping operation was among the scenarios the Abe administration cited in exercising the right to collective self-defense. But coalition partner New Komeito had insisted that such an operation could be carried out by using police powers.

The new conditions stipulate that Japan can come to the aid of a friendly nation if: 1) the attack poses a clear danger to Japan’s survival; 2) the attack could fundamentally overturn Japanese citizens’ constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and 3) there’s no other way of repelling the attack. In addition, the use of force is limited to the minimum extent deemed necessary, under the new constitutional interpretation.

But many people are concerned about how far the scope of the SDF’s overseas operations could be expanded, given the vagueness of the three conditions.

During the Diet session, Abe maintained that an oil shortage due to a conflict in the Middle East could bring about a situation that would meet the three conditions.

“If there would be short supplies of petroleum and if that poses vital threats to our citizens’ lives, I believe there could be a situation where existence of our nation could be threatened,” Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee.

The right to collective self-defense allows a country to come to the aid of an ally under armed attack, even if the state itself is not being attacked. The war-renouncing Constitution had long been interpreted as banning the exercise of this right because it would exceed “the minimum necessary ” use of force for self-defense.

But Abe’s remarks on Monday suggest Japan may send its military as far as the Middle East despite the war-renouncing Article 9, if a war there caused an oil shortage for Japan.

Abe said closure of the Strait of Hormuz would pose a great economic threat to Japan, and that could pose a threat to the country’s “survival.”

He also stressed the use of force allowed under Article 9 will be limited, saying that Japan will not join a multinational military operation based on resolutions by the U.N. Security Council, such as those passed regarding the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War.

“(The use of force) will be limited to self-defense means to protect the existence and citizens” of Japan, Abe said.

Given those restrictions, Japan remains unable to fully exercise the right the collective self-defense as other U.N. member states are able to, he said. Loosening the limits on SDF operations further would require a revision of the Constitution, not a reinterpretation, Abe said.

“We will maintain the (current) exclusively defense-oriented posture,” he said.