National / Politics

Abe Cabinet OKs bills to relax limits on SDF operations abroad

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet adopted two security bills on Thursday that would, if passed by the Diet, greatly expand the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ joint operations with foreign forces overseas.

“The Cabinet today approved a package of security bills to ensure peace for Japan and the world,” Abe said at a news conference at his office.

The legislation will be submitted to the current Diet session, where heated debate is expected. If passed, it will effectively usher in a historic shift away from the country’s long-held defensive posture on matters of security.

One of the two bills would amend 10 security-related laws, removing some restrictions on SDF operations. One of the revisions would allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or the right to come to the aid of a friendly nation under attack.

Collective self-defense would be allowed only when there is a “clear danger” to Japan’s survival due to an armed attack on a country with which Tokyo has “close ties” and there are “no other appropriate means” to protect Japanese citizens.

Despite those restrictions, the revision would still result in a departure from the country’s postwar pacifism, as the Constitution was long interpreted as allowing Tokyo to attack an enemy country only when Japan itself is under attack.

The second bill would create a permanent law allowing the government to dispatch the SDF overseas to provide logistics support to a foreign force engaged in armed combat.

The government currently needs to enact a temporary law each time it wishes to dispatch the SDF to provide logistics support to a multinational force, such as those in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Abe administration argues that forging a permanent law would allow the government to dispatch SDF units without any delays caused by having to enact a special law.

However, the government would still need to gain Diet approval “without exception” before deploying SDF units abroad, according to the proposed amendment.

The bills were adopted in line with Abe’s ambition of making Japan “a proactive contributor” to international peace. The bills would also give teeth to the Cabinet’s contentious decision last July to reinterpret the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

And it would boost cooperation between the SDF and U.S. forces, in line with the new bilateral defense guidelines, which were revised last month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said earlier in the day the new bills are designed to enhance the deterrent power of Japan and its military alliance with the United States.

The government’s most important responsibility is “to protect the peaceful lives of the public,” Suga told reporters. “We need legislation that would enable (the country) to address every situation in a seamless manner.”

One of the security-related laws that would be amended allows Japan to provide logistics support to U.S. forces near Japan in the event of a military contingency.

The law was enacted in 1999 to deal with the possibility of a military contingency on the Korean Peninsula, although this was not explicitly written in the text.

The Abe government would like to remove geographical restrictions on Japan’s logistics support for any foreign forces in the event of a situation that would “gravely affect” Japan’speace and security.

Other proposed revisions to the 10 security-related laws include:

Allowing the SDF to defend warships and other hardware of nations working to defend Japan, such as the U.S.

Permitting the SDF to conduct ship inspections abroad in a bid to contribute to international peace and security. Currently, Japanese forces are restricted to inspecting ships and their cargo “in Japanese waters or on the surrounding high seas.”

Enabling SDF personnel in peacekeeping operations abroad to use their weapons to defend foreign forces under armed attack.

Allowing Japan to send SDF personnel abroad to engage in security operations and to extend humanitarian assistance in line with U.N. resolutions or upon request by other international bodies such as the EU.

Letting the SDF rescue Japanese nationals caught up in emergency situations overseas. Currently, the SDF is only allowed to provide transport during evacuation missions.