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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 12:10 09/20/2007
September 20, 2007

Permanent Legislation Necessary for Japan's Anti-terrorism Mission

Tomohito SHINODA (Professor, International University of Japan)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement of resignation not only surprised many Japanese, but also made it logistically impossible to extend the current Anti-terrorism Special Measures Law by the expiration date of November 1. Whether Mr. Yasuo Fukuda or Mr. Taro Aso wins the LDP presidential election, the new national leader would have to pass a new piece of legislation in order for Japan to continue contributing to the war against terrorism.

The debate on the extension of the Anti-terrorism Legislation has involved two somewhat separate issues. One is on the substance of Japan's international contribution, whether the Maritime Self-Defense Forces (SDF) mission in the Indian Ocean for anti-terrorism activities should be continued or not. The other issue is the legal arrangement for Japan's current operations in the Indian Ocean, whether the Anti-terrorism Law should be extended to continue Japan's international contribution.

As for the fist issue, Japan's refueling mission in the region has been highly appreciated by the international community. Refueling operations are essential to support maritime inspections to prevent the inflow and outflow of terrorists, their weapons and other materials such as narcotics from and to Afghanistan.

Among four supply ships operating in the Indian Ocean, Japan's SDF vessel is the only one which provides fuel and water “for free.” By taking advantage of Japan's service, Pakistan has participated in anti-terrorism activities in and around Afghanistan. Pakistan's participation is symbolically important to demonstrate a broad international support against terrorism as it is the only Islamic country participating in the mission.

Furthermore, Japan's support for US-led anti-terrorism activities helps to strengthen the Japan-US alliance. Under the uncertain conditions in East Asia including the North Korean nuclear problem and China's military expansion, strengthening the alliance with the US is the only realistic choice for Japan's future security.

Regarding the legal arrangement for Japan's international contribution, however, the extension of the current Anti-terrorism Law is not an appropriate measure for Japan to take in order to extend the current mission by the Maritime SDF. Nearly six years have passed since this special measures law was enacted in response to the emergency situation of the 9/11 incident. So far, it has been extended three times without much discussion in the Diet.

In reality, the objective of the anti-terrorism operations in the Indian Ocean has shifted from the initial support for US military activities to fight against Taliban to the current containment of terrorist organizations by maritime inspections. Nevertheless, Japan's refueling activities have been continuing without redefining the purpose of the Anti-terrorism Law.

The media reports that the Japanese government is preparing new temporary legislation to allow the SDF to provide refueling in the Indian Ocean. However, it would be more desirable for Japan to set up a permanent legal framework for the SDF's overseas missions, including anti-terrorism activities.

When the Defense Agency was upgraded to the Ministry in December, 2006, the SDF Law was revised to add the maintenance of international peace and security to the list of its main activities. However, there is only one permanent law in this area, that is, the 1992 PKO Cooperation Law which allows SDF participation in UN-led peacekeeping operations. Although the enactment of new permanent legislation for other overseas missions will certainly take much time and discussion in the Diet, Japan should do its best to introduce a more legitimate measure to continue its international contribution from the long-term viewpoint.

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