On Thursday (April 9), the DPJ decided that it would let the Maritimes Self-Defense Force protect merchant ships—including non-Japanese interests—against Somali pirates if the ruling coalition agrees to put it under the Prime Minister’s Command, give the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister veto power over its dispatch, and rename the escort vessels and its crew the Coping-with-Pirates Force.
Okay, it’s not as bad as it sounds; the Prime Minister can dismiss an uncooperative MILT Minister, and Coping-with-Pirates Force doesn’t sound like something in a Neverland sequel when it’s spelled out in Japanese (海賊対処隊). Still, it’s amazing when you remember that this is exactly the kind of situation to put the Self-Defense Force on the line of duty that Ichiro Ozawa has been dreaming of. It complies with an unambiguous UN resolution, and it’s only a policing action. Moreover, opinion polls say that the Japanese public is in favor of the dispatch two to one—this is not the war in Iraq, or even the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean.
So why bother?
The decision is obviously a sop to the Social Democrats, whose cerebellums keep telling them to oppose anything regarding any activities that take the Self-Defense Force beyond Japanese waters. Frankly, the JSD is nuts, but the DPJ needs it in the Upper House, so it is flipping a political fig leaf to its (prospective) coalition partner.