The Yomiuri ShimbunJapan relies on the Middle East for much of its supply of resources. The safety of sea transport in the region is directly connected with its national interests. In cooperation with the United States and other countries, the government must look for ways to contribute in this respect.
In response to growing tensions over the Iranian situation, the United States has proposed forming a coalition of the willing to patrol the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere, calling for cooperation from more than 60 nations in Asia and Europe, including Japan.
The envisaged coalition of the willing would call on each member state to safeguard its own private-sector ships and take other precautions, with the U.S. military mainly in charge of command and control as well as surveillance activities. The U.S. move also seems to be aimed at gaining the support of the international community for its policy toward Iran.
Tensions are heightening in areas around the Strait of Hormuz. Last month, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shot down an unmanned U.S. military surveillance drone. U.S. President Donald Trump has announced the U.S. Navy downed a small unmanned Iranian drone.
Eighty percent of Japan’s crude oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, with about 1,700 vessels used for that purpose annually. Tankers operated by Japanese and other shipping companies were attacked last month. Securing the safety of sea lanes is an important task that should be taken up by the government.
First of all, the situation in the region needs to be carefully ascertained, and with the utilization of the Self-Defense Forces in mind, it is necessary to consider the legal grounds for that action.
If the use of the SDF is aimed at protecting ships related to Japan, the task can be conducted through maritime patrol operations based on the Self-Defense Forces Law. However, foreign vessels are not covered by that action, and the use of weapons is limited to such purposes as legitimate self-defense.
Discuss specific points
Security-related legislation entails a framework for dispatching SDF personnel overseas. A case in point is a situation capable of having an important impact, in which Japan’s security could be at risk if military tensions and an armed conflict are left unchecked. In that event, rear-area logistic support for U.S. forces and others would be possible. However, the current circumstances cannot be described as a crisis of that seriousness.
In addition to safeguarding operations in the Strait of Hormuz, the United States has proposed conducting patrol activities in waters off Yemen. In the Gulf of Aden, located in the vicinity of that area, Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and an MSDF patrol plane corps have been engaged in a crackdown on pirates, based on the anti-piracy law.
The idea of utilizing the corps for gathering information and other purposes is also being floated.
If the current situation cannot be handled under the existing legislation, it will be necessary to consider establishing a new special measures law.
Through close consultations with the United States, the government should ascertain the details of activities to be conducted by the proposed coalition of the willing. It is essential to discuss the specifics of points at issue, such as whether each participating nation would be responsible for patrolling the waters in question to protect ships, including those from other countries. Another issue is whether each country would be placed under the command of U.S. forces.
Making efforts to ease tensions in the region is critical. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Iran last month and held talks with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, among others. It is essential to urge both the United States and Iran to calmly act on the situation and diplomatically resolve the problem.