New Guidelines Clarify SDF-JCG Cooperation in Event of Armed Attack

Courtesy of Maritime Self-Defense Force
Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel conduct a joint exercise in waters off Tokyo’s Izu Oshima Island in December 2021.

The government has adopted new guidelines outlining procedures for cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard in the event of an armed attack by an enemy.

According to the guidelines released Friday, the defense minister will be able to put the JCG commandant under his or her command and the coast guard will take charge of such missions as the evacuation of residents and search and rescue activities at sea.

The SDF and the JCG are planning to conduct their first joint exercise simulating an armed attack to strengthen cooperation.

The guidelines represent the first operational manual outlining specific cooperation cases between the SDF and the JCG in emergencies.

Direction by the defense minister will be limited to the JCG commandant, the head of the maritime security body, while the JCG commandant will be responsible for directing JCG patrol ships and other vessels.

Under Article 25 of the Japan Coast Guard Law, the JCG cannot function as a military force. In order to maintain that principle, the guidelines position the JCG as a law enforcement agency separate from the military.

Examples of JCG activities cited in the guidelines include evacuations; search and rescue; provision of information and other support activities; and vigilance against terrorism at ports and other facilities.

If Japan confirms the military activities of an enemy, such as missile attacks and landings or other such incursions, the SDF will take defensive action, while the JCG will focus on logistical support, such as the evacuation of residents.

As it would be difficult for the SDF to take charge of both defense measures and the evacuation of residents at the same time, a senior Defense Ministry official said the guidelines are aimed at “clarifying the division of roles” between the SDF and the JCG.

Under Article 80 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, the defense minister can give orders to the JCG in the event of an emergency, but specific procedures had not been outlined.

To address the long-standing issue, the government included plans to strengthen cooperation between the SDF and the JCG in the National Security Strategy revised last year.

The SDF and the JCG plan to hold a tabletop exercise in May and a practical drill in June, both of which will simulate armed attacks, including emergencies in and around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and elsewhere.