Editorials

SDF's expanding missions

The revised bilateral agreement on logistical cooperation between military forces of Japan and the United States, for which the government plans to seek Diet approval during the ongoing session, significantly expands the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ support of the U.S. military not just in geographical terms but in the nature of the support they provide. The accord is yet another step for full implementation of the Abe administration’s security legislation that came into force in March, but the changes in SDF missions in support of U.S. forces was not discussed in full detail when the legislation — a package of a new law and amendments to 10 existing laws — was deliberated in the Diet last year. Lawmakers should spend enough time to highlight what the revised bilateral accord will entail for Japan’s overseas military missions.

Since it was first concluded in 1996, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) has been updated in line with the expansion in bilateral defense cooperation. Initially, the mutual provision of supplies such as food, water and fuel as well as transportation, lodging and other services between the SDF and U.S. forces was limited to peacetime cooperation such as joint exercises and United Nations-led peacekeeping operations. The scope of logistical cooperation was expanded to contingencies in areas surrounding Japan in 1998. The agreement was revised again in 2004 to enable supply of ammunition to U.S. forces in “noncombat” areas when enemy attack on Japan was either taking place or anticipated.

The revised agreement signed by Tokyo and Washington in late September brings SDF troops providing logistical support for U.S. forces much closer to the battlefield. The previous government policy dictated that Japanese troops in such missions operate only in “noncombat” zones — explained as areas where the fighting is currently not taking place and where fighting is not expected to occur over the duration of the support mission — so that the SDF troops providing the logistical support would not become an integral part of the use of force by the other forces in combat missions, as prohibited by the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

But a 2014 decision by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and the security legislation based on the decision — made it possible for the SDF in such missions to operate anywhere except where combat battle is actually taking place. In other words, SDF troops can operate in areas where fighting could potentially break out as long as a battle is not taking place as it engages in the logistical support mission.

The supplies that the SDF can provide to U.S. forces under the revised agreement include ammunition and fuel. The government’s explanation in the Diet deliberation of the security legislation as to how Japanese troops providing the crucial logistics for other forces in combat can be deemed separate from the use of force — or how can they not be targeted by enemy forces in the fight — was hardly convincing.

As per the security legislation, which lifted the government’s long-standing ban on Japan engaging in acts of collective self-defense, the revised ACSA paves the way for Japan providing logistical support for the U.S. military not only in case of armed attack on Japan but when an attack on Japan’s ally threatens the nation’s own survival even though the nation is not under direct attack. The 1998 revision provided for support for U.S. forces in contingencies in areas surrounding Japan — which effectively assumed a security crisis in and around the Korean Peninsula — but the geographical restriction has been lifted and the SDF will now be able to support the U.S. military in emergencies taking place effectively anywhere around the globe that are deemed to gravely affect Japan’s peace and security. The new blanket law for deployment of the SDF for support for other militaries — such as the refueling in the Indian Ocean for other naval vessels of countries taking part in the fighting in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. and deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force troops in Iraq — also expands the scope of SDF missions overseas.

The Abe administration is also seeking to add a new mission to the SDF troops deployed for the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan — of coming to the rescue of other troops or civilians under attack — also in accordance with the security legislation. Lawmakers in the Diet should once again scrutinize how far the administration intends to expand the SDF’s overseas missions under Abe’s call for “proactive contributions to peace” and think how that should be controlled.