Japan Getting into the Middle East Hot Water

Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security

Japan’s ruling coalition parties approved a proposed plan for sending Japan’s Self Defense Forces (JSDF) vessels to the Middle East. Based on that, in the coming week, probably on Dec. 23, the Japanese government will officially finalize the plan of deployment of vessels of its Maritime Self Defense Force to the international sea surrounding the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula.   

Everything is being transacted in a very orderly manner and a formal procedure, as usual to Japan. As usual also, the plan is a very cautious and discreet one. According to the plan, each mission consists of a guard ship with 200 seamen on board and helicopters and a P3C patrol aircraft attended by 50-60 clues. The area in which the mission operates is designated as the international waters of following areas; the Gulf of Oman and the northern part of the Arabian Sea, as well as the area east outside of the Bab al-Mandeb strait.

This precise description of the mission area signifies the utmost effort to avoid going into Persian/Arabian Gulf and particularly to keep away from the Strait of Hormuz.

Purpose and mandate of the deployed forces are precisely defined as “research and intelligence gathering” and by no means aimed at being involved in conflicts in the region. The use of forces is allowed only when Japanese ships are directly attacked and a separate order is given by the government.

Under Japan’s post-World War II pacifist constitution, overseas activity of JSDF is strictly limited and severely checked and monitored by the Diet, the Japanese parliament.

Such a restrained mission doesn’t change the complicated situation in the Middle East and the Gulf. The best thing is that it doesn’t add any fuel or complexity to that region.

The region is already overcrowded with outside and regional powers intervening in it. Japan doesn’t have any ambition to be a newcomer to this club of intervention which already have caused a sort of a traffic congestion of superpowers, regional powers and the sharp and smart powers by which tensions have been kept heightened and conflicts being prolonged in this region.

For Japan, showing the nominal presence of its forces and gather information in the area surrounding the Gulf and the Red Sea is a necessary effort to secure its sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) which is vital to its security of transportations of vital energy resources. The primal aim is to show the presence, but not to the Arabs or Persians, but in the eyes of the Americans, particularly the President Trump. It also tries to avoid any suspicions of the powers inside the Gulf, with each of which Japan has cordial bilateral relationship.