As debate on exercising Japan’s right to collective self-defense is about to begin, the issue has now shifted from allowing it to the situations where it must be exercised. The government is seriously mulling on giving the prime minister the power to make decisions to mobilize Self Defense Forces during “gray zone” incidents.
Currently, possible attacks and seizures of remote territories fall under the jurisdiction of the police and coast guard. If the situation is determined to be more than their capability, the prime minister may call a public security order or the defense minister may ask for back up from Self Defense Forces but only after it gets approval from the Cabinet. However, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that such a process may delay the action needed and damage could spread further. To address this concern, the Cabinet is thinking of empowering the prime minister with the authority to decide on these “gray zone” incidents, which are not direct attacks to Japan but are considered threats to its sovereignty. The premier could invoke the help of the Self Defense Forces immediately without going through a Cabinet decision. But many are anxious and fearful that the power could be abused. A government official dismissed these fears, saying, “Working out a system for the SDF to go into action promptly itself will serve as a deterrent. It is unlikely that the SDF will go into action from the outset.” Things, however, are different if the SDF are assembled to target foreigners that are not military. It could be turned around and Japan may be criticized for using “force first.”
Other factors are being considered with this proposed new system. While gathering the SDF is standard operating procedure in Japan’s point of view, the other nation involved may capitalize on this and begin a war. The power to make the decision is placed solely on the prime minister and there would be no checks and balance from other Cabinet members if a certain situation requires mobilization of troops. They would have to take the word of the prime minister. The government is expected to defend this proposal and come up with recommendations to check these loopholes in the coming joint deliberations between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, beginning May 20.
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