It was reported Monday that Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships and naval ships of the United States and a few other countries fired at and sank a decommissioned U.S. Navy ship during an exercise off Hawaii in July 2010.

Apparently this was an exercise for the MSDF and the navies of the other countries to practice jointly using force against a common enemy. The government’s traditional position, though, is that the war-renouncing Constitution only lets Japan exercise the right to individual self-defense, thus prohibiting Self-Defense Forces from participating in military drills commonly associated with the right to collective self-defense.

It is deplorable that the MSDF appears to have violated the government’s ban on taking part in a military exercise premised on the right to collective self-defense with other countries and that the Democratic Party of Japan-ruled government hid that information from the public and the Diet.

The government should explain the details of the exercise to the Diet and the legislature should thoroughly scrutinize the matter.

The sinking of the ship was carried out as part of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), a multilateral naval exercise held roughly on alternate years since 1971. Japan has taken part in it since 1980. Until 2010, the government explained that in the RIMPAC, Japan carried out joint exercises only with the U.S. Navy. In 2010, it announced that Japan for the first time would take part in a multilateral exercise aimed at “coping with” piracy.

One report says that in the sinking exercise, the 4,550-ton MSDF destroyer Akebono and the 7,750-ton MSDF Aegis destroyer Atago fired their guns at the 18,500-ton decommissioned U.S. amphibious assault ship New Orleans while forming a single-line formation with four other ships from the U.S. and Australian navies. That was after the target ship was first bombarded with anti-ship missiles from the U.S. and Australian ships and aircraft, and with laser-guided bombs released from a U.S. B-52 bomber. It says that in part of the exercise, the MSDF and U.S. Navy ships fired their guns in the same time slot.

Another report says that ships from the French, Canadian and Dutch navies also fired their guns during the naval exercise.

The Japanese Defense Ministry says the MSDF’s participation was not premised on the right to collective defense because ships from different navies fired their guns during different time slots. This explanation smacks of sophistry.

Following this exercise, the DPJ government introduced the concept of dynamic defense in December 2010 and gutted the traditional weapons export ban in December 2011. On April 27, 2012, the defense and foreign ministers of Japan and the U.S. said in a joint statement that Japan and the U.S. will consider developing joint military training areas in Guam and Tinian in the Western Pacific.

The DPJ government should be criticized for failing to consider that in some occasions, Japan’s strategic interests will not necessarily align with those of the U.S. More importantly, though, it should be severely criticized for unilaterally weakening the principles of the war-renouncing Constitution bit by bit without consulting the Diet.

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