Why Japan joins anti-piracy mission off Somalia

The Gulf of Aden is a serious sail from the islands of Japan.

But Japan has two very good reasons to join the effort to rein in Somali pirates: It imports most of its oil from the Middle East and its economy is heavily dependent on exports.

And its decision to join the growing anti-piracy fleet off the lawless coast offers another benefit: some helpful experience in handling long-range naval deployments.

After lengthy debate – Japan is constrained by a Constitution that limits the military to a defensive posture – Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered his country’s Navy today to prep for safeguarding one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

The spike in Somali piracy last fall grabbed the attention of everyone from the US to India, China, Russia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Denmark – all of whom now troll the waters in the region. Survival in a state riven by warlords may have driven the explosion of Somali attacks, as the Monitor noted in November.

But the international community couldn’t ignore the tally of 70 hijacked ships and more than $150 million in ransom payments. The UN Security Council went so far as to authorize countries to pursue pirates onto Somali soil if need be.

Japan is probably not eager to match India’s sinking – to strong international acclaim – of a pirate ship that attacked it in November. But Japan has been the only G-8 nation not patrolling these seas – and a number of Asian neighbors, including China, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand, are already on the job. South Korea wants a piece of the action too. Last week, Seoul approved sending a destroyer and troops to the Indian Ocean.

Plying the waters off Somalia, would likely build on Japan’s successful past efforts to help combat Malacca Strait piracy through information-sharing, as the Monitor reported in 2006. And it can train in the kind of mission that is old hat to the United States and a number of NATO members.

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