Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s Japanese cabinet on Friday approved plans to send naval personnel to the Middle East, apparently to protect oil ships in the region. The deployment includes a destroyer with helicopters, as well as one of two P-3C patrol planes from its base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the only Japanese military base abroad. The deployment could start as early as January and will last at least a year, according to government sources.
Tokyo says the mission will be limited to intelligence gathering to ensure “peace and stability” in the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden and the northern Arabian Sea. He also claims that this will be done independently of other nations. However, speaking at a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that these operations could be carried out in “coordination with the countries concerned”, that is, the United States. United.
Ever since Washington stepped up its pressure on Iran by dropping the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018 and then accusing Iran of carrying out attacks in the region last summer, the Trump administration has been pushing back. allies like Japan to provide forces for military conflict.
Japan has been reluctant to join this operation because almost 90% of its oil comes from the Middle East and, unlike Washington, Tokyo maintains friendly relations with Tehran. The previous week, Abe had met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tokyo, where the prime minister reportedly briefed his counterpart on the deployment.
Tokyo attempts to present the deployment as a compromise between Washington’s demands and relations with Tehran, declaring that the Japanese military will not join the US patrols through the Strait of Hormuz, although this has not been ruled out at the future. “We cannot abandon the ships linked to Japan,” said a government source of the possibility of more aggressive actions in the region.
The Abe administration is using the deployment as another opportunity to advance its militarist agenda. While Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, known as the pacifist clause, legally prohibits Japanese governments from maintaining a standing army or deploying it abroad, Tokyo has for decades used ” reinterpretations ”to allow Japan to exploit the self-defense forces. (SDF), the official name of the Japanese army.
The Abe administration passed highly unpopular military legislation in 2015 to justify its own “reinterpretation” of the constitution the year before to allow the SDF to participate in military actions abroad alongside allies on behalf of “Collective self-defense”. These steps were part of Abe’s goal of revising the constitution by next year.
The latest naval deployment to the Middle East goes far beyond its stated purpose. First, it aims to put into practice the 2015 legislation that allows SDFs to be dispatched anywhere abroad and come into conflict for the benefit of an ally. Although forces in the region are not allowed to use their weapons, this could change with an order from Defense Minister Tarō Kōno.
Second, the deployment is another gradual step towards full remilitarization, which continues to remain deeply unpopular in Japan. A July poll found that 56% of people oppose the revision of Article 9, while only 32% supported it. The Abe administration hopes the new Middle East mission will help normalize foreign military actions in people’s minds and eliminate opposition to constitutional changes, which require the passage of a national referendum.
The government is sending the Japanese navy to a potential war zone under entirely false pretenses. In June, Washington intervened less than 10 minutes after launching an attack on Iran in alleged retaliation for attacks on tankers, one of which was operated by Japan, as well as on Saudi oil facilities and others. targets. Tokyo wondered at the time whether Tehran was involved.
The credibility of US claims that Iran is responsible for acts of aggression does not stand up to scrutiny. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a report on December 10 saying the UN was “unable to independently corroborate” that Iran carried out strikes this year against facilities in Arabia. Arabia.
Given the impeachment conflict and the wider political discontent in the United States, it is entirely possible that Trump may decide to launch an attack on Iran in order to divert these tensions outward. Such an attack could attract great powers like China and Russia. It is in this context that Japan decided to deploy military forces.
The new deployment will be supported by another record annual military budget, approved by Abe’s cabinet on December 20. The budget for the fiscal year starting April 1, of 5.31 trillion yen ($ 48.56 billion), increased 1.1 percent. This is the sixth consecutive year that military spending has reached an all-time high and the eighth consecutive year of spending increases. Since Abe came to power in December 2012, the military budget has increased by 13%.
This budget figure does not take into account future additional military spending. For 2019, Abe’s government has allocated 428.7 billion yen ($ 3.9 billion) in additional funds, a practice that has become common in recent years and is expected to continue into 2020.
The increased spending will continue to escalate tensions with China and North Korea as an arms race unfolds. Next year alone, Tokyo intends to buy six F-35Bs and three F-35As from US arms maker Lockheed Martin, for a price of 79.3 billion yen ($ 725 million). In total, Japan plans to purchase a total of 147 variants of the aircraft, including 42 F-35Bs, capable of short take-offs and vertical landings.
The F-35Bs will be deployed on Japan’s de facto aircraft carriers, which have been its Navy’s first offensive ships since World War II. Tokyo will spend 3.1 billion yen ($ 28.3 million) to reconfigure the Izumo helicopter carrier next year to accommodate fighter jets. Its sister ship, the Kaga, will be rearranged in the future.
Tokyo will also use funds to research locations and start building two Aegis Ashore missile batteries, purchased from the United States. The batteries will further integrate Japan into Washington’s region-wide ballistic missile system, which is being developed in preparation for war with China.