The government has opted to extend by one year the Maritime Self-Defense Force mission to supply fuel in the Indian Ocean to ships of the U.S. Navy and allied nations engaged in antiterrorist activities related to security in Afghanistan. A law specifying a duration of two years — enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — has enabled the MSDF mission so far. That law will expire Nov. 1. The legislation raised a constitutional question, and should not be extended offhandedly.

International cooperation is important for thwarting terrorism. Afghanistan took a landmark step in its march toward peace and democracy by holding elections Sept. 18 for the National Assembly and Provincial Councils, the first such elections under its new Constitution. The fact that the elections occurred with relatively little confusion was a sign of progress that strengthens the case for ending the MSDF’s mission.

Regrettably, this issue was not publicly debated during the recent election campaign as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi chose to focus on one issue essentially — the postal service privatization bills. The government is scheduled to submit a revision bill that would extend the MSDF mission by one year to the current special session of the Diet. Thorough discussion is demanded of legislators.

The legislation for special measures against terrorism passed the Diet on Oct. 29, 2001, with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the then Conservative Party. The law was opposed by the Democratic Party of Japan, the then Liberal Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. It was revised in October 2003 to permit a two-year extension.

The law’s primary aim was to provide backup logistic support to U.S. forces engaged in military activities in Afghanistan. It has enabled the MSDF to carry out support activities, mainly supplying fuel to ships of the U.S. Navy and other nations in the Indian Ocean, and to provide transportation assistance for refugees. It also has enabled the Air Self-Defense Force to transport goods for the U.S. armed forces.

Under the law, the Self-Defense Forces may carry out their activities only in international waters and areas of foreign countries where there is no fighting. In the latter case, permission from the governments concerned is required.

The special measures legislation marked a turning point in Japan’s security policy because it enabled the wartime dispatch of SDF units overseas. The law has aroused suspicion that it may violate the Constitution under which use of force abroad is prohibited.

Separately, a law enacted on July 26, 2003, authorizing special measures for humanitarian assistance in Iraq enabled the dispatch of a Ground Self-Defense Force unit to Samawa, Iraq. This, too, provoked suspicion that it might be unconstitutional.

At present, four MSDF supply ships take turns supplying fuel in the Indian Ocean, accompanied by two to four destroyers. By the end of August, the MSDF ships had provided about 407,000 kiloliters of fuel free of charge (but worth about 16 billion yen) to ships of the U.S., Britain, Germany, New Zealand, France and six other nations on 541 occasions. The Defense Agency does not disclose the names of ships that receive fuel or the locations where refueling takes place on the grounds that it would unveil details of the operations involved.

Suspicion lingers that the MSDF has provided, or is providing, support to the U.S. armed forces in Iraq-related activities since the Iraq war began. In the Diet, an opposition lawmaker alleged that a declassified document of the U.S. armed forces shows that the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, whose aircraft sent air raids into Iraq, received fuel from a U.S. supply ship that earlier had been supplied by an MSDF ship. The government has not offered a convincing answer to the allegation.

It has been reported that Mr. Koizumi, at one point, considered pulling the MSDF out of the Indian Ocean but instead has opted for a one-year extension of the 2001 law for fear of souring his government’s relations with the Bush administration. The LDP’s landslide victory in the Lower House election Sept. 11 may have led Mr. Koizumi to think that a revision to the law will easily pass the Diet. The government is also most likely to choose to extend the GSDF unit’s mission in Samawa, which is due to expire in mid-December.

It is impossible to contain terrorism by military means alone. Japan should expand its activities that concentrate on eliminating the social and economic causes of terrorism in cooperation with other nations under the leadership of the United Nations.

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