Government responsible for smooth SDF transport of foreign nationals

In the event of an emergency overseas, it is an obvious duty to transport foreign nationals working at Japanese embassies and other related people by aircraft or other means, in a similar manner to Japanese nationals. It is important to appropriately review laws about this matter and their implementation.

The government has drawn up a bill to revise the Self-Defense Forces Law concerning the transport of Japanese nationals in emergencies. It plans to submit the legislation to the Diet soon.

The main aim of the revision is to allow the government to dispatch SDF personnel to an area under an emergency to evacuate foreign nationals, such as employees working at Japanese embassies, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and similar entities, even if there are no Japanese nationals in the area.

Local staff members at such entities are allies who work for Japan’s national interests. In the event of an emergency, the government must take responsibility for evacuating such people if they want to flee.

Under the current law, the safety of the operation is a prerequisite for transport, but the revised law is expected to include a provision about the ability to take measures to avoid danger.

The revision is said to be aimed at clarifying the government’s policy of allowing the SDF to be dispatched if other countries’ military aircraft can take off and land without problems, even if commercial flights have ceased operations.

The current law also states that transport should be conducted by government airplanes, in principle, but this provision is set to be deleted. It is reasonable to use SDF airplanes, which are highly safe and maneuverable.

Provisions concerning the transport of Japanese nationals by the SDF were added to the law in 1994. However, the use of government airplanes and other means with less of a connection to the SDF was decided upon, as there was strong reluctance about dispatching SDF personnel overseas. It is reasonable for the law to be revised in line with real-world challenges.

On this occasion of revising the law, it is crucial for the government to review its entire emergency response.

When Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell in August last year, the government’s decision to dispatch SDF airplanes was delayed, leaving behind about 500 Afghan allies who wanted to leave the country.

The government initially considered giving priority to using commercial flights and having foreign nationals ride in the military aircraft of other countries. That led to the delayed response. The delay might have been caused because the government regarded the SDF dispatch as a “last resort.”

It is hoped that the government will learn from this incident and enhance its readiness to promptly dispatch SDF personnel if necessary. It is essential to strengthen preparedness even in peacetime through measures such as information gathering and training.

Depending on the local situation, it can be assumed that dispatching the SDF will sometimes be difficult. It is necessary to consider providing Japanese expatriates with information that could help them determine whether to evacuate on commercial flights or by other means before the situation worsens.

If unforeseen circumstances arise on the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait, it would be challenging to transport and protect people on an unprecedented scale. The government is urged to proceed with specific studies in anticipation of various situations by sorting out the issues under the Constitution and international law.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 6, 2022.