MSDF minesweeper Sugashima.

Buried in a United States State Department cable dated July 31st, 2008 is a description of how Japan would respond to a contingency on the Korean peninsula.

SUBJECT: DASD MAHNKEN MEETINGS IN JAPAN ON BILATERAL PLANNING

JSDF Planning for a Korean Contingency
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¶9. (S) MOD and JSO representatives gave a presentation on JSDF activities in a Korean Peninsula contingency, including the use of air and sea ports during situation in areas surrounding Japan (SIASJ) and an armed attack against Japan, with a particular emphasis on operations to support the transport of Japanese nationals overseas (TJNO), equivalent to U.S. non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO). Japan plans to send JSDF ships and aircraft to South Korea for TJNO during SIASJ, if necessary to augment Japan civil air and sea capacity. Japan would need to get Republic of Korea prior approval and MOD would need to be confident that transport by JSDF aircraft would be safe, i.e. they would not be transiting, entering or departing from hostilities. Significant JSDF activities would include convoy support and minesweeping, search and rescue operations, and ship inspections. JSO representatives noted that minesweeping activities by the JSDF is allowed under SIASJ against “abandoned mines,” i.e. floating mines or mines otherwise seemingly dumped off a ship and abandoned. JSO suggested that the “abandoned mines” concept would allow Japan the flexibility to conduct minesweeping operations but asked that the United States not press for further definition of an abandoned mine.

The document seems to suggest that Japan plans to do a great deal in the event of a Korean contingency, short of participating in combat. First and foremost is a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation to rescue and repatriate Japanese nationals in South Korea. There are 18,000 Japanese nationals living in South Korea. Not a huge number, but considering the possibility of North Korean special forces conducting attacks across the South it might be difficult to find a port or airfield Japan would consider safe enough to use. It’s also a bit hard to imagine that South Korea, perhaps locked in a death struggle with the North, might actually get around to giving Japan permission to enter the country and rescue its civilians. That seems like the sort of thing that should be worked out before a war starts.

Still, it’s intriguing how many of these planned operations entail some risk. Convoys can be attacked, minesweepers can be sunk by mines, and boarding operations can turn deadly, especially with the North Koreans involved. Japan seems to be pushing its role in a Korean contingency as much as constitutionally possible.

The line about “abandoned mines” and Japan asking the United States not to press it for a definition of such is comical. By definition all sea mines are “abandoned”. But if all mines can be considered abandoned, the MSDF would be free to go after all mines, arguing that they could drift into the sea lanes and threaten Japanese shipping. A creative way to get around the inability to provide collective security, for sure.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch