MSDF destroyer Sazanami carrying out an escort mission

MSDF destroyer Sazanami carrying out an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden (Source: MoD)

The Japanese government is apparently considering how it will secure its shipping in the event of a breakout of conflict in the Straits of Hormuz, according to Jiji Press (and Nikkei):

Japan Mulling Sending Warships to Strait of Hormuz

The Japanese government is considering whether it is possible for the country to send Maritime Self-Defense Force ships to the Strait of Hormuz to escort oil and gas tankers amid an growing tension in the region over Iran’s nuclear program, informed sources said.

Some 80 pct of crude oil and 20 pct of liquefied natural gas that Japan imports from the Middle East currently pass through the Straits of Hormuz, a crucial gateway to the Persian Gulf.

It is vital for Japan to secure such imports because demand for use in thermal power generation is increasing rapidly in line with the falling operation rate of nuclear power plants following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

However, with Iran threatening to shut the strait to counter sanctions planned by the United States and Europe against its nuclear program, it will be difficult for Japanese-tied carriers to go through the shipping lane if the Middle Eastern nation deploys naval ships and sea mines there.

The Japanese government is thus considering dispatching destroyers to protect Japanese ships there, based on the SDF law that allows troops to be deployed for maritime security, sources familiar with the matter said.

This appears to be an expansion of the principles guiding the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, and if they were to decide to go ahead with a dispatch, then it is possible that they will allow the vessels of other nations to apply for protection as in the Gulf of Aden. However, this will involve the possibility of Japanese vessels being attacked by another state’s military force, not just a non-state actor such as terrorists or pirates. This in itself seems a major obstacle to the possibility of a deployment and will necessitate neutrality that the Japanese government would be hard to feign given their close ties to the US.

It is essential, as the article mentions, that Japan consider its energy security in the event of conflict with Iran. It will be interesting to see where the government decides to go with this, but while it seems like a good chance for the SDF affirm their alliance with the US by providing an auxiliary role in the Straits, it seems more likely that the government will come down on the path of minimal or non-deployment.

For more on the SDF’s mission in the Gulf of Aden, take a look at this MSDF video (in Japanese):

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch