Amid threats from North Korea that it would attack American aircraft carrier ‘Carl Vinson’, Japan recently sent its biggest warship to escort a US supply vessel that was in the waters off Boso Peninsula.
Defence experts believe that it is Japan’s boldest move since the WWII and Tokyo’s decision to mobilize ‘Izumo’ amounts to a serious military manoeuvre for the Asia-Pacific nation. Izumo, the helicopter carrier, is the pride of the Japanese Navy, and by far its biggest ship. The 249m-long vessel can carry up to nine helicopters and resembles US amphibious assault carriers.
Under Prime Minister Shino Abe, Japan is gradually pushing the limits of what its modern and powerful military is allowed to do. The Asian country’s post-WWII Constitution bars its military from using force to resolve conflicts, except in cases of self-defence. However, new laws, passed in 2015, allow Japan to come to the aid of an ally under attack as part of “collective self-defence”. The Abe government faced criticism that the new laws could lead the country into unnecessary wars abroad. But, the Japanese premier rejected such a possibility.
The Izumo is the first warship deployed outside of military exercises, using the new law. New laws of 2015 also allow Japan to protect the weapons and equipment of its allies’ armed forces, who are defending the Asian nation. It can provide logistical support to allies involved in situations with “important influence” on Japan’s security. Thus, it could support South Korea (if the North invaded), but may stop short of sending troops as this may be unconstitutional.
Japan can also shoot down a North Korean missile headed for the US. Military action, such as minesweeping to keep shipping lanes secure, even in an active conflict zone may also be allowed if the restriction on shipping threatened Japan’s survival.
Commenting on Izumo’s mission, a senior Japanese official told the local media in Tokyo on May 1 that the vessel was accompanying a US ship heading to refuel the naval fleet, including the ‘Carl Vinson’ aircraft carrier, in the region. He said that the Izumo left its base in Yokosuka to join the American supply ship and accompany it to waters off Shikoku.