Security Laws Compromising Human Lives “Do not fire unless fired upon first even when Rescuing Hostages?”

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Ex-Commander of the Middle Army, JGSDF / Advisor to JFSS General (Ret.) Yusuke Matsushima

Self-Defense Forces following the Police Law
New security bills, the top priority of the Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, have currently been debated in the Diet day after day. One of the core bills is to authorize the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to carry out a rescue mission for Japanese citizens who are left behind in a foreign country where public security has deteriorated. This bill has been motivated surely by the 2013 In Amenas hostage crisis, Algeria where ten Japanese JGC workers were killed by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.

Any argument regarding rescuing fellow countrymen who are under threat or in a hostage situation in a foreign country has long been neglected in Post-War Japan. 

Currently, the Japanese Self-Defense Force are only allowed to use weapons based on regulations designated by the Police Official Duties Execution Act in Japan, unless a Defense Mobilization Order (or “Bouei Shutsudou”) is officially announced by the Prime Minister of Japan against armed attack on Japanese soil. This means defense personnel is not allowed to use weapons to harm any armed man or terrorist unless the security personnel needs to defend his own life and/or to conduct emergency evacuation for his own safety from danger. It means that defense personnel cannot do anything even if a Japanese civilian is shot and killed in front of their eyes by an armed combatant landed/terrorist in Japan, unless he himself is shot.

This new security bill for rescuing Japanese civilians in a foreign hostile region, which the Abe Cabinet is currently attempting to enact, requires the Japanese Self-Defense Force to carry out rescue missions and abide by the Police Official Duties Execution Act, as well.

Unrealistic Argument
Of course, the Police Official Duties Execution Act is NOT realistically suitable for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to carry out military operations and terrorist or hostile groups who might take Japanese citizens for hostages would take advantages of such a Japan’s restriction. However, it is true that unrealistic restrictions have been applied to the Japanese Self-Defense Force not only for public security missions in Japan but also for military operations in foreign countries such as UN peace keeping operations. 

This staunch position has been sustained due to public fear that any organized weapons usage authorized by Defense Force commanders on the ground might possibly lead to violating Article 9 of the Japanese “Peace Constitution” that bans “the threat or use of force”. 

Rescue missions in foreign countries are not something that can be successfully achieved by sending transportation equipment and defense personnel. It can only be done by highly trained military units such as Special Forces with constant, detailed and reliable intelligence and logistics support. Yet, the probability of success can never be 100%. 

It is not difficult to expect that Japanese Self-Defense Forces personnel would face more risks on the ground during a real rescue mission, which could lead to KIA unnecessarily in some cases, because of these unrealistic and possibly “cruel” legal restrictions. 

In fact, it is surprising that there is a political party in the Diet that actually advocates not to rescue fellow countrymen if the Peace Constitution might have to be changed. The members of the political party might believe that nothing can be superior to the Peace Constitution, not even human lives. 

A Dilemma of Operation Commanders
There are two choices that a commander of the Japanese Self-Defense Force rescue team must choose when Japanese citizens are shot by hostile armed groups right in front of him; either follow the unrealistic legal restrictions by compromising civilian lives, or violate the relevant regulations and use weapons to protect civilian lives. In the latter case, the commander shall be regarded as a dangerous character for the Defense Force and would surely be arrested as a criminal for violating the laws. Yet, these arguments are not being discussed in the Diet at all.

The Japanese public who live under the so-called Peace Constitution for over half a century is probably not ready to anticipate a realistic, tough and sometimes bloody situation. Thus, they are probably not mature enough to judge whether or not rescuing lives of fellow countrymen who are under threat in foreign countries should be more important than fanatically believing in the sprit of the US-made Japanese Peace Constitution. 

Even though the Japanese public is not ready to make tough decisions, the ongoing debates on the new security bills in the Diet shall be conducted based on realistic case studies since it is impossible to carry out a rescue mission for Japanese citizens who are left behind in foreign hostile areas under the restriction of the current Police Official Duties Execution Act. 

I strongly believe it is our nation’s duty to rescue Japanese citizens who request help in foreign countries and the Peace Constitution must never be set at a superior position to people’s lives.