DPJ Deputy leader Yukio Hatoyama strikes a more than reasonable note on sending Self-Defense Force ships to protect the sea lanes against pirates. He stated that the DPJ would “consider the matter positively and favorably after [taking power]” and that “if we are to protect foreign ships as well as Japanese ones, we need a new law.” He may only be saying this to keep national security conservatives such as Akihisa Nagashima and Keiichiro Asao on side in the lead-up to the Lower House election, but I don’t think so. I am going to take his words at face value. Robert Dujarric sent me his latest Japan Times op-ed Japan in a Post-U.S. World, where he argues that Japan can and should do more to maintain and reinforce the public services that for the most the United States has provided during the post-WW II period. I agree (though I have some issues with his specific recommendations; I may talk about that later), and protecting the sea lanes in the Middle East and East Africa from pirates is one area where our national interests are squarely in line with the global public good.
I can’t quite see how Mr. Hatoyama can square that with the DPJ opposition to the Self-Defense Force refueling operations in the Indian Ocean on constitutional grounds. In both cases, the parties we’ll be going up against are non-sovereign entities engaging in illegal, often violent activities. Under international law, engaging them in battle would be a policing action by the JSDF, not an act of war, would it not? It doesn’t make sense from a legal point of view to choose one and reject the other.
Having said that, if it had to be one or the other, I’d say that patrolling the sea lanes against pirates is more important from a operational, if not necessarily diplomatic, point of view. Moreover, it’s the more radical and welcome departure from Japan’s traditionally circumspect approach to overseas projection of its military, not to mention more fun—fighting pirates indeed…Do I hear echoes of… yes, to the shores of Tripoli…
ADD: My reference to the U.S. Marines’ Hymn is partly in jest, partly a note of caution. For the line between policing actions on one hand and infringements on sovereignty and even war on the other can be blurry and subject to shifts.