Japan to propose Self-Defense Forces aid attacked US ships

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Takanami, left, sails alongside the USS McCampbell on March 9, 2014, in the Pacific Ocean. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to soon begin a process that, if approved by the national legislature, would allow Japan to defend the U.S. military and other allies on the high seas for the first time in the post-WWII era. Currently, Japanese forces or territories must be directly attacked to engage in defensive measures.

TOKYO — The Japanese government will propose creating a new rule in the Self-Defense Forces Law to protect U.S. ships attacked during joint operations with the SDF in peacetime, according to sources.

The proposal is to be made Friday at a ruling party meeting on developing a legal framework for national security. It intends to enable "unit self-defense," which allows a SDF unit to respond to such a situation with countermeasures based on the judgment of a unit commander.

Unit self-defense, which is commonly included in foreign militaries' rules of engagement, is a countermeasure for incidents that fall short of a wartime attack, and differs from exercising the right to self-defense.

According to Article 95 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, the SDF is authorized to respond with weapons when SDF ships and other vessels come under sudden attack in peacetime. But the article is limited to the protection of SDF vessels and does not cover U.S. ships.

The government has judged it necessary to allow the SDF to take protective action only when a U.S. ship jointly operates near an SDF ship, in line with Western norms.

At an earlier ruling party meeting, the government submitted defense scenarios that included a case involving the protection of U.S. ships on alert for a ballistic missile launch in peacetime. In such a situation, it would be necessary to protect an Aegis-equipped destroyer watching for a ballistic missile launch as it would not be able to detect other attacks.

At Tuesday's ruling party meeting, the government presented the case, saying that the right to unit self-defense was internationally accepted. Both the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito asked for more detailed explanations.

But if a similar case occurs during wartime, the SDF cannot take action based on the idea of unit self-defense and needs to respond by exercising the right to collective self-defense.

Meanwhile, the LDP is now considering the compilation of guidelines to limit the exercise of the collective self-defense right at the ruling party's Friday talks on developing a legal framework for national security.

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