The Defense Ministry’s report on the Self-Defense Forces operations to provide protection for U.S. military ships and aircraft is surprisingly short on substance.

The ministry recently published the report describing SDF escort missions for U.S. forces carried out last year according to the newly enacted national security legislation.

All that the document says, however, is that the SDF conducted two separate operations to guard a U.S. military vessel and aircraft as “joint exercises to improve the capabilities required for national defense.” It doesn’t say either when or where these missions were carried out.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to have forgotten the promise he made during Diet deliberations on the security legislation in 2015 to keep the public adequately informed on SDF operations to protect U.S. military ships.

“In order to fulfill my duty to explain (such operations) to the Diet and the public, I will disclose as much related information as possible and offer detailed descriptions (about them),” he said then.

But the Defense Ministry report doesn’t amount to either substantial disclosure or a detailed explanation.

When a Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer escorted a U.S. Navy supply ship in the first-ever such mission in May last year, the government didn’t disclose the fact.

But Abe himself revealed that the SDF had carried out a mission to protect U.S. military aircraft in his policy speech at the outset of the current Diet session in January. Referring to the mission, he emphatically said, “There is no doubt that the Japan-U.S. alliance has become stronger than ever.”

It seems that the Abe administration intends to disclose such SDF operations when it wants to advertise them as an “achievement” but conceal them otherwise.

This stance should be criticized as a strategy aimed at manipulating information.

Also disturbing is the extremely lax reporting procedures involved.

The operational guidelines for SDF escort operations developed in 2016 by the National Security Council require the defense minister to report to the NSC all the missions conducted in the previous year and call for appropriate information disclosure by the government.

Abe’s Cabinet endorsed written answers dated Feb. 6 to written questions submitted by Seiji Osaka, a Lower House member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which say the missions carried out last year were reported to the NSC on Feb. 5 according to the guidelines.

But no NSC session was held on Feb. 5 because of the fatal crash of a Ground Self-Defense Force attack helicopter that occurred that day in a residential area of Kanzaki, Saga Prefecture, triggering fires in two houses.

When asked about this contradiction during a Feb. 13 news conference, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said he had effectively reported the operations to the NSC by reporting them in writing to the prime minister, who is the chairman of the NSC.

If that is the case, why didn’t the written answers say so?

Or the minister could have reported to the NSC more faithfully according to the guidelines on another day.

The national security legislation leaves to the defense minister decisions on SDF escort missions for U.S. naval ships in peacetime. It doesn’t require the minister to report them to the Diet.

But the government is not disclosing related information appropriately nor reporting such operations to the NSC in a proper manner.

This is a sign of a serious deficiency in the democratic control over the SDF.

The Diet’s involvement in the matter needs to be expanded and enhanced. Debate on problems with the security legislation should come before any discussions on an amendment to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16