DPJ's troubling stand on refueling mission
How should the nation deal with the threats posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles as well as acts of international terrorism? How can Japan's national interests be protected while this nation works in tandem with international society?
We hope political parties will hold animated discussions on what course Japan's diplomatic and security policies should take, during their campaigns for the upcoming House of Representatives election.
At the moment, the topic on many observers' lips is the Self-Defense Forces' refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.
In a recent moderation of its foreign and security policy, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan announced a plan to continue, for the time being, the refueling mission, which the party once decried as violating the Constitution.
However, DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said Wednesday his party would not extend the mission once the new Antiterrorism Law expires in January. We find the party's fickle response to this important mission hard to fathom.
Why did the DPJ decide to continue the operation for the time being if it believes it violates the Constitution? If the party withdraws the Maritime Self-Defense Force from the Indian Ocean, just what does it plan to contribute to the international fight against terrorism? Does it plan to do nothing at all?
The DPJ has a responsibility to provide clear answers to these questions.
Afghanistan proposal weak
In 2007, the party submitted to the Diet a counterproposal to the ruling bloc's antiterrorism bill. The DPJ's alternative plan called for providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan after a formal ceasefire has been reached in the war-torn country. The grim reality, however, is that there is absolutely no prospect of such an accord being signed. The upshot is that the DPJ proposal practically means that Japan would sit on its hands and offer nothing to the international fight against terrorism.
Given that, the proposal is unlikely to be warmly supported in foreign capitals.
The DPJ proposed in its manifesto that Japan will share roles with the United States and proactively fulfill its responsibilities to build an "equal Japan-U.S. relationship."
The expression "equal relationship" suggests the DPJ intends to back away from the path trodden by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, which it claims have been content to follow the lead of the United States.
The DPJ manifesto says the party plans to propose to the United States that the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement be revised and the realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan be reviewed.
But if the DPJ is serious about bringing these pledges to fruition, it must explain what international responsibilities it plans to fulfill. Failure to do so will sink any hopes the party has of building an "equal relationship" with the United States.
Adapting to the real world
On the other hand, the party offered forward-looking pledges on the antipiracy mission off Somalia and cargo inspections that form part of the international sanctions imposed on North Korea. These steps indicate the DPJ is open to taking a more realistic approach to foreign and security policy matters.
But we have some niggling doubts, not least the party's plan to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party, which opposes the dispatch of SDF personnel on overseas missions. Will the DPJ be able to continue the MSDF antipiracy mission despite the SDP's objections?
The right to collective self-defense is another key issue. The LDP plans to incorporate this subject in its election pledges. We welcome this move.
The LDP's election pledge will be based on a proposal by a panel of experts led by former Ambassador to the United States Shunji Yanai. The pledge is expected to state that the government will review its interpretation of the right to collective self-defense, which, according to the government, the nation possesses but is prohibited from exercising under the Constitution.
The threats posed by North Korea amplify the need to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. Exercising the nation's right to collective self-defense will be an important step to achieving this goal.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 31, 2009)