On March 13, the Cabinet submitted an antipiracy bill to the Diet. The bill, if enacted, will allow Japanese gunships to come to the assistance of non-Japanese ships and enable them to act beyond the confines of strict, self-defense doctrine. It is yet another step in the expansion of the role of the Self-Defense Forces on national security issues. I finally located the text here and found what I wanted to know. In fact, there are several points that I’d like to share with you.
The bill defines acts of piracy in Japanese and international waters and makes them punishable under Japanese law. It carefully draws a protective circle around sovereignty by excluding acts committed in foreign territorial waters or with government and government-operated ships. So my advice to criminals who intend to commandeer a military gunboat to use in acts of piracy is this: Make sure you use a helicopter or swim to get there—do not use a skiff, or fishing boat—if you want to escape the fearsome might of the two Japanese escort ships. But before I call this a nod to domestic concerns about a military drift on the part of the Self-Defense Forces, I’d like to know if there are similar, if any, national restrictions on the activities of the other navies. On a related matter, I also note that there is nothing in the bill concerning hot pursuit into territorial waters.
The bill delineates antipiracy activities as policing actions. As such, it puts the matter under the jurisdiction of the Japan Coast Guard. The Self-Defense Forces are an auxiliary means, to be invoked by the Defense Minister on the authorization of the Prime Minister only when there is a “special need”. The head of “other relevant administrative agencies” must be consulted but there are no explicit provisions for coordinating with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard personnel posted on the JSDF ships to conduct actual police work (arrests, etc.) appears to be there as an administrative measure that is beyond the scope of this particular bill.
There is no coordination with the South Korean Navy either. South Korea had hoped, I had hoped, that the JSDF refueling ship presumably accompanying the two escort ships—the refueling ship for the counterterrorism activities in the Indian Ocean is too far away to be of help, which is also one reason the escort ship protecting the refueling ship is not being made available to antipiracy efforts of the Somalia coast—but that, apparently, is not meant to be. In fact, there are no provisions in the bill for any international coordination at all beyond some brief Article One Objective boilerplate mention of international cooperation. This indicates that the JSDF is not going to join the U.S.-U.K.-led patrol brigade but will concentrate on “escorting” mostly if not solely Japanese ships.
All in all, the bill is a conservative document, with a carefully circumscribed role for the JSDF. Even so, the DPJ is looking at the possibility of putting the JSDF ships under Coast Guard control as a way to avoid opposing the popular measure. I understand the DPJ’s need to keep its left wing onside as well as to mollify its Socialist allies’ claimed fears of the Japanese military running amok, but I can see some practical problems in such a wholesale arrangement. More important from a political point of view, the healthy majority of the Japanese public that support antipiracy measures and, perhaps more importantly, the mainstream media will not look kindly upon a delay resulting from a deadlock over the perceived need for such window dressing. I suspect that the DPJ will instead extract its pound of flesh in the form of greater parliamentary oversight before it lets the bill pass.