Japan leaders in talks over broadening troops' weapons use overseas
TOKYO — Attention is being focused on whether to grant Japan's self-defense forces more authority to use weapons during international cooperation activities, in talks on new legal arrangements on national security between the ruling coalition parties.
While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants to relax restrictions for SDF troops on the use of weapons to expand their activities overseas, its junior coalition partner Komeito remains cautious, wondering if the change complies with the Constitution and if it will bring more danger to SDF members.
According to experts, the use of weapons could be put into two categories: "self-preservation," namely, minimal use of weapons by SDF members to protect their lives and people under their control; and "mission execution," or using weapons by SDF members to eliminate resistance in carrying out their mission with warning shots and other actions.
So far, only use of weapons under the self-preservation category has been allowed in principle for SDF members. However, since the Cabinet decided last year to expand SDF activities abroad, expansion of the self-preservation category and creation of the mission execution category are being discussed in the talks between the ruling parties.
At their meeting on Friday, an LDP member insisted that the mission execution category of weapons use should be allowed for SDF units, but a Komeito member retorted that it is totally different from the self-preservation category that has been allowed so far.
After the meeting, Kiyohiko Toyama, a Komeito member of the House of Representatives, acknowledged a difference of opinions on the issue between the two parties.
"We are far from a conclusion," he stressed.
Komeito has shown some understanding for the expansion of the self-preservation category that allows SDF members to use weapons to protect their lives.
Last year's Cabinet endorsement on SDF activities expanded the compass of logistic support to be provided by the SDF to U.S. forces in combat. While providing such support, it is conceivable that fighting might erupt suddenly in an area where SDF units work, forcing them to suspend or discontinue logistic support and to evacuate. In such a situation, it is unavoidable to allow the minimal use of weapons for SDF members, a senior Komeito official said.
Expansion of the self-preservation category will be included in an envisaged permanent law that will allow the government to send SDF troops abroad at any time considered necessary and in a bill to revise the law for dealing with military emergencies in areas surrounding Japan.
The Cabinet endorsement has allowed the mission-execution category of weapons use for SDF troops engaging in U.N. peacekeeping operations in areas where conflicts have ended. The LDP wants to reflect the endorsement in the peacekeeping cooperation law and the envisaged permanent law on the dispatch of SDF members to enable them to engage in security maintenance missions in areas where they are sent. If the changes are realized, the use of troops from other countries to protect the SDF, such as SDF units dispatched to Iraq, will not be necessary.