US Leaks MSDF Request
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Japan is becoming an increasing military concern for the rest of Asia. According to news leaked by the US Department of Defense, the US request that Japan dispatch its state-of-the-art Aegis destroyers to aid in a possible war against Iraq originally came from high ranking officials in Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF). According to the International Herald Tribune, this news was leaked by the US due to dissatisfaction among US officials at what they called one-sided reporting that the requests had come exclusively from the US. Although, the SDF has tried to promote changes in Japan's military policy through the US in the past, never before has the placing of such an aggressive request by the SDF been disclosed. Considering that this specific request implies a desire on the part of the MSDF to be directly involved in US military action abroad, it marks a frightening development for many within and outside of Japan.
News that the MSDF had lobbied for a US Aegis request was leaked on 6 May through the International Herald Tribune. The article stated that high ranking officers of the MSDF approached Rear Admiral Robert Chaplin, the commander of the US Naval Forces in Japan, on 10 April at his Yokosuka Office to request that the US ask for sophisticated weaponry in the anti-terror campaign from Japan. The source indicated that the 10 April meeting between MSDF officials and Chaplin was held to discuss what Japan could do after 19 May, the deadline for the first set of support measures agreed to last fall. In the list presented by the Japanese side, MSDF officials allegedly offered the deployment of the Aegis warships and P3C anti-submarine patrol aircraft in its suggestions for collaboration after 19 May.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, on 20 April the US informally asked at a Japan-US working-level meeting on foreign and defense affairs that Japan help out with Aegis destroyers and P3C aircraft in the event of an attack on Iraq. The response given at the time was that this was both politically and legally difficult. Primarily because the Japanese public and the regional environment was not prepared for such a move and second because the anti-terrorist law adopted last year would not allow Japanese involvement if the assault targets were not linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Subsequently, however, the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz made the same request on 29 April in a meeting with three visiting secretary generals of the ruling coalition in Japan.
If it is indeed true that it was the MSDF that placed these requests in the first place this issue needs to be treated with considerable caution by the Japanese government. The appearance of an action hungry SDF in Japan does not bode well with Japan's efforts to promote friendly and intensified relations with its Asian neighbors. Neither does it serve to calm the tensions that exist between China, North Korea and Japan. Of further concern to those who oppose the idea of a normal army and military policy for Japan is the fact that the United States is actively supporting MSDF requests towards that end. It may be a matter of time before Japan decides to eliminate Article 9 from its constitution, however, if Japan is to avoid destabilizing the region by such a move this time frame need be slow and commensurate with international understanding on the matter. Recognizing that this understanding has not yet been forged, the Japanese government needs to reassure its regional neighbors that these ambitious and to some, threatening requests on the part of the MSDF are neither welcome nor representative of Japanese sentiment as a whole. If it does not do so, there will be reason to suspect that the desire expressed by the MSDF lurks behind Mr. Koizumi's attempt to get the three controversial bills dealing with military attacks on Japan pushed through the Diet during the current session. It is important that a clear and peaceful message be given to the rest of Asia in particular, otherwise a full-fledged arms race will develop in East Asia giving no-one a sense of security.
- "US Eyes Japan Aid in Iraq Attack", Asahi Shimbun 20 April 2002
- "MSDF lobbied for US Aegis request", International Herald Tribune, 6 May 2002