The government plans to make a decision by the end of this month over whether to expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces under the new security laws, allowing them to undertake rescue missions of foreign troops under attack during U.N. peacekeeping operations.
The SDF is also scheduled to start a joint exercise with the U.S. military next month under the assumption that the new regulations — which allow the right to collective self-defense — are approved.
Collective self-defense is the right to aid allies under armed attack, even if Japan itself is not attacked.
The concept was a key part of the controversial security laws that were passed by the Diet on Sept. 19, 2015.
On Wednesday, a Ground Self-Defense Force unit set to be dispatched to South Sudan in November to join U.N. peacekeeping operations began practical training for rescuing nongovernmental organization members and others under attack in remote locations.
The government will make a decision on the SDF’s new role after assessing progress in the GSDF unit’s training and the overall security situation in the African country at an upcoming National Security Council meeting.
It will also decide whether to give the SDF another new task of jointly protecting camps during peacekeeping operations with troops of other countries.
Once the decisions are made, the government will at a Cabinet meeting revise the current operational plans for SDF dispatches. The decision will also allow the SDF to begin training in preparation for situations that fall under the purview of collective self-defense.
In October and November, all three branches of the SDF are slated to participate in the Keen Sword exercise with the U.S. military. Those drills will be held in waters around Japan, where the SDF will practice, among other scenarios, defending a U.S. warship from attack.
The security laws also allow Japan to provide ammunition to the U.S. military and refuel U.S. jets when Japan itself is not under direct attack.
Tokyo and Washington are expected to sign a revision to the bilateral acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) to enable such cooperation soon. The Abe government is aiming to have the revised ACSA enacted during the extraordinary Diet session that begins next Monday.
Still, observers say the government has its work cut out for it in explaining to a skeptical public the need for Japanese troops being deeply involved in operations with the U.S. military.