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2008年12月29日 (月)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27(IHT/Asahi: December 29,2008)

EDITORIAL: Anti-piracy mission


The government is considering whether to deploy Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and other vessels to waters off Somalia in support of international efforts to rein in rampant piracy in the region. In response to a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for international cooperation to tackle the problem, a host of countries, including the United States, parts of Europe, China, Iran and India, have already decided to dispatch warships.



The pirate-infested Gulf of Aden connecting Europe with the Middle East and Asia is of huge strategic importance. About 20,000 tankers, cargo vessels and other ships pass annually through the gulf. Of the total, 2,100 vessels have business with Japan. In fact, several have been hijacked by pirates operating off Somalia in the past year or so.


Clearly, Japan must consider what level of cooperation it should offer to help counter this threat. On Friday, Prime Minister Taro Aso instructed Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada to devise a way to deploy MSDF vessels on an anti-piracy mission.


The government has been studying a new law to allow the MSDF to carry out anti-piracy operations. But the prospect of early passage of such legislation through the Diet is dismal, given the current legislative gridlock due to opposition control of the Upper House.


As an alternative, the government is considering resorting to a provision in the Self-Defense Forces Law to order a maritime policing action by the MSDF in the area. This approach would enable the government to deploy MSDF vessels swiftly. From the viewpoint of jurisdiction, the Japan Coast Guard should primarily deal with the problem of piracy, which is a criminal activity. But the law authorizes the government to mobilize SDF troops to cope with a situation that demands higher capability than what the coast guard can offer.


Under the plan being considered, MSDF ships would escort Japanese commercial vessels off the Somali coast. There are, however, problems to be sorted out.



First, there are no clear rules for the MSDF to use weapons during such operations. The MSDF can fire warning shots during a sea policing mission but its members are not allowed to launch a damaging attack unless it is for legitimate self-defense or averting imminent danger. Somali pirates are armed with rocket launchers and other heavy weapons and could attack MSDF vessels. Clear rules of engagement should be established to protect the safety of MSDF personnel.


Another important question is whether the MSDF should provide protection only to ships with Japanese registry or operated by Japanese companies. It is possible, for instance, that MSDF ships could escort international flotillas, including Japanese vessels. A realistic formula for anti-piracy operations based on the local situation should be developed.


Details of the MSDF ships' responsibilities should also be specified. If their mandate includes cracking down on pirates in addition to protecting commercial ships, the question of how they should treat any pirates they capture would need to be answered. The countries that have already dispatched ships to fight piracy face the same problems and are struggling to deal with them.


In light of these sticky problems, it is not surprising that there is strong skepticism about an anti-piracy mission within the Defense Ministry. If MSDF ships are deployed before all these issues are clearly worked out, there will undoubtedly be serious confusion among personnel involved in the operations.


What is critical is to lay down clear rules of engagement in advance.


There are also other ways for Japan to support international efforts to stop piracy. The Japan Coast Guard cooperated with the maritime security authorities of other countries in dealing with piracy in the Strait of Malacca. The government should also consider drawing on the experience.


At the heart of the problem is the chaotic situation in Somalia. It should not be forgotten that there can be no fundamental solution to the problem of piracy without effective international aid to clean up the situation in Somalia.



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