Dispatch of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force to Iraq ruled unconstitutional

Has the government gone beyond the bounds of its authority? This is the question we face. On April 17, the Nagoya High Court ruled that the Air Self-Defense Force's mission of transporting multinational troops to Iraq is unconstitutional. Citizens had filed an appeal to the high court, demanding the government end these operations by the ASDF.

Similar lawsuits were filed in Okayama, Osaka, and other district courts, but no court had yet sided with the plaintiffs. This was the first time the ASDF's mission was ruled unconstitutional.

The high court, however, dismissed the plaintiffs' demand for banning the deployment of the ASDF or paying compensation. The plaintiffs, then, lost the lawsuit, but still earned a substantial victory. The state, which formally won the case, cannot make a further appeal. Thus, the ruling of the high court, stating the ASDF mission is unconstitutional, is now final.

The ruling also recognized that Bagdad is a “combat zone” in which the special measures law on Iraq does not allow Self-Defense Force operations. The court said that airlifting multinational troops to Bagdad by the ASDF plays a part in the use of force by other countries and must therefore be regarded as Japan's own use of force.

The court judged that the mission breaches the special measures law, under which the ASDF is being dispatched, as well as Section 1 of Article 9 of the Constitution, which forever renounces “the threat or use of force.”

Some experts argue that if the ASDF is dispatched to provide transportation, it is not realistic to exclude soldiers from its cargo. We must not, however, slight the Constitution. The government has used the special measures law to allay the situation without serious deliberation over the constitutional limits of dispatching the SDF overseas. The ruling seems to be a natural consequence of this posture.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Japan has acted in concert with the United States in policies related to Afghanistan and Iraq. Five years have passed since the outbreak of the Iraq War, but conditions there remain dire. Contrary to the original claims of the U.S. and British governments, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. And it has been confirmed that no relationship existed between the Saddam Husseim regime and the international terrorist network, Al Qaeda.

Japan must reflect seriously on the fact that it may have gone beyond the framework of the Constitution in its actions regarding the “War on Terror” and give consideration to other ways in which Japan can contribute to the efforts of the international community.

The ruling coalition is now working to enact a permanent law that will enable the overseas dispatch of the SDF whenever it deems necessary. Due to the recent court ruling, however, this intention must be reconsidered and discussed fully in the Diet.

After the Ground Self-Defense Force withdrew from Samawa in southern Iraq in July 2006, the ASDF remained in Kuwait and continued to transport multinational troops, UN staff, and supplies to Bagdad and to Irbil in the north. But as scant information is being disclosed, it is hard to grasp the actual state of affairs and the public's interest has waned.

The ruling is a wake-up call to draw people's attention back to the activities of the SDF in Iraq and to urge our continual vigilance. How should we respond to this wake-up call? The government and the people of Japan are now faced with finding an answer.