National / Politics

Government compiling defense guidelines to deal with 'gray zone' scenarios


The central government has begun drawing up guidelines intended to deal with so-called gray zone contingencies that do not allow the government to immediately mobilize the Self-Defense Forces but could pose a serious security threat, a government source said on Wednesday.

Legal constraints permit Tokyo to mobilize the SDF only when a foreign country stages an armed attack against Japan. An attack by an unidentified armed group on a remote island, for example, may not meet that condition, some officials have argued, delaying a military response by the SDF.

Under the proposed guidelines that could take effect by the end of the year, the central government aims to strengthen coordination among relevant entities and streamline information sharing to enable the prime minister decide more quickly how to proceed in such situations, including whether the Self-Defense Forces should be mobilized, the government source said.

The nascent guidelines are expected to include the establishment of an effective communication mechanism among the SDF, the National Police Agency, the Japan Coast Guard and the prime minister’s office to counter any unlawful activity encountered by the SDF on remote islands or on the high seas, according to the government source.

The pacifist Constitution includes constraints on the SDF and the use of force. Law enforcement agencies like the police and the Coast Guard are primarily tasked with dealing with low intensity incidents that are not considered military attacks but could threaten the county’s sovereignty.

“Gray zone” scenarios presented by the government as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to reform the country’s defense and security policies include an armed group disguised as fishermen taking control of a Japanese remote island, and a foreign submarine remaining in territorial waters in defiance of repeated Japanese requests to leave.

To enable the central government to exercise the right to collective self-defense, the ruling coalition will present bills to revise a series of laws during the regular Diet session next year.

But the crafting of the guidelines fits with a July decision by Abe’s Cabinet to make procedural changes rather than reworking the legal framework around the SDF to deal with “gray zone” scenarios.

Repeated intrusions by China’s coast guard vessels in disputed waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea have raised concerns about an inadvertent military clash.

The uninhabited islands, controlled by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu, as well as differing perceptions of wartime history have helped to fray ties between the two countries.