The ruling coalition has presented the opposition bloc with an outline of a new law to continue the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. The new law, if enacted, will replace the current special law, which expires Nov. 1. Although similar to the current law, the new law would undermine civilian control of the Self-Defense Forces because it would not require Diet approval for starting a new operation.

Under the current law, the MSDF is refueling naval ships of the United States and other countries to support antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. The law, which was enacted in late October 2001 and remains in effect for two years, has been renewed three times.

The proposed new law would also remain in effect for two years and be renewable, but would limit the MSDF’s activities to logistical support, such as providing oil and water. Although the government would present a report on the MSDF’s activities to the Diet one year after the law goes into effect and issue such a report annually, the outline does not contain a provision requiring separate Diet approval to launch an operation under the new law.

The ruling coalition takes the position that such approval, which must be given by both houses of the Diet, is unnecessary, saying that the enactment of the new law, which would mention the MSDF’s activities in concrete terms, should be taken as having the same effect as Diet approval for starting an operation. But this means skipping an important process in which the Diet carefully makes a judgment on whether to initiate a major SDF operation, such as sending a unit abroad. This change would undermine democracy and the principle of the rule of law.

The government must also supply the Diet with sufficient information on how the fuel provided by the MSDF has been used. If any of it has been used to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq, it would be a violation of the current law and the government’s attempt to continue the refueling mission will lose credibility.

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