Boots for ships?

The DPJ, JCP, SDP, and Kokumin Shinto collectively informed the government on Tuesday in a meeting of Kokutai chairs that they cannot cooperate with the government on the MSDF mission in the Indian Ocean, due to the lack of a provision mandating prior approval from the Diet. Indeed, at a press conference on Tuesday Mr. Ozawa made a point of questioning the constitutionality of the mission.

But Mr. Ozawa has also opened the door to a compromise with the government.

How? Well, it turns out that Mr. Ozawa wants not just civilian aid workers on the ground in Afghanistan, but GSDF troops contributing to ISAF efforts to maintain order in Afghanistan. He even suggested, according to Mainichi, that GSDF troops participating in ISAF might be able to use their weapons if necessary.

Although the article hinted darkly at “objections” within the DPJ, Mr. Ozawa’s comments are still of interest. Is the government so hung up on having ships in the Indian Ocean that it won’t even consider the idea of GSDF troops on the ground, a contribution that would probably be even more appreciated internationally than the refueling operation? If so, why? I wonder if this isn’t a matter of wanting to commit in the least costly way while still pocketing appreciation from abroad for Japan’s contributions. It’s not like Japan’s risking much at the moment. (For all we know, the MSDF sailors are having dance parties at sea.) Is it a kind of rigid legalism on the part of MOFA — the US wants ships, we deliver ships? Is it a fear of the casualties that could result from sending GSDF troops to Afghanistan could derail Japan’s “normalization”?

Meanwhile, Mr. Ozawa’s remarks should dispel the wild mischaracterizations of Mr. Ozawa that have been flung about over the past couple of months, mostly in the western press. (Try this recent one by Richard Halloran.) The guy’s no anti-American pacifist — he’s just struggling to keep together a party riven with disagreements on foreign policy. Accordingly, if a LDP-DPJ compromise with the government were to emerge on the grounds of a GSDF dispatch to Afghanistan, I would be curious about whether the DPJ caucus in the Upper House, which strikes me as having a more Socialist coloration, would follow along meekly or whether it would cause trouble for their party’s Fearless Leader.

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