TOKYO — Japan can defend its allies and friendly nations under attack but only at their request, a prominent member of a government panel mulling collective security said Friday in an apparent attempt to ease concern that the government may act at its own initiative.
Shinichi Kitaoka, a professor at International University of Japan who sits on the panel, said Japan can only defend its allies and friendly nations if the attack they may be under severely harms Japan’s interests or when those nations officially request assistance.
The government still has to seek Diet approval and gain permission from other nations for the Self-Defense Forces to traverse other territories, he said at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
Those conditions will be included in the report, which will be submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in April.
The report was originally expected to state Japan can defend friendly nations under attack without their request. The request element apparently reflects the view of LDP ally New Komeito, which is backed by the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai. The smaller partner in the ruling bloc is wary of green-lighting intervention without request, let alone revising the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9.
Public and media quarters are concerned that the government might send the SDF beyond the Asia-Pacific region for the sake of playing a pro-active role in achieving peace, a notion repeated by Abe. But Kitaoka said it would be hard for Japan to legitimize a nonregional dispatch.
“I cannot really come up with an example when Japan has to send the SDF to the other side of the world because its interests are seriously harmed otherwise,” Kitaoka told reporters. “It requires overwhelming legitimate reasons for Japan to do so.”
The report also includes the possible expansion of the SDF’s role if Japan faces “low intensity,” or “gray zone” scenarios, such as if foreign submarines do not leave Japan’s territory despite repeated warnings, or an armed group, not a defined military force, takes control of remote Japanese-controlled islands.
The government’s effort to allow Japan to defend other nations or upgrade the SDF’s role are often perceived as a shift to the right.
Kitaoka rebuffed this notion by saying exercising such defensive actions has nothing to do with a rightward posture, although other policies may reflect such a drift.
“These are a few steps for Japan to become a normal and peace-loving country. And they represent realistic policy,” said Kitaoka.
The panel, which was started during Abe’s first term, has already submitted a position report that Japan can exercise such defensive actions under four limited cases. But administrations that succeeded Abe after his first term took his off its agenda.
The report says Japan can shoot down a ballistic missile flying over its territory, possibly toward the United States, and can defend U.S. military ships on the high seas that are engaged in joint operations with the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The report also says Japan can defend allied troops in U.S.-led peacekeeping operations and provide logistic support for U.N.-led troops using military force.