The Yomiuri Shimbun The Self-Defense Forces’ latest mission is highly significant, as the SDF have made a visible contribution to a new nation, helping to build its social infrastructure for more than five years.
The government has decided to end the Ground Self-Defense Force’s involvement in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan. The GSDF unit tasked with that mission will be withdrawn from the country presumably by the end of May.
The GSDF was dispatched in January 2012, marking a record for the longest involvement in U.N. peacekeeping activities by a GSDF engineering unit. About 210 kilometers of road were repaired by the GSDF unit in areas surrounding the capital Juba, and about 500,000 square meters of land were turned into usable lots. The unit has also built facilities in 94 locations.
In explaining the reason for the withdrawal, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said, “[The GSDF mission] can mark a certain measure of completion for facility construction and improvement in Juba.” His decision can be viewed as a reasonable political judgment.
Juba’s public security has remained in a state of relative calm in the wake of armed clashes between government forces and those supporting the then vice president in July last year. The five principles for SDF participation in a U.N. peacekeeping mission, including a ceasefire agreement reached among warring parties, have been observed during the latest GSDF mission.
However, it is one way of thinking — in preparation for a deterioration in future conditions — to use this period of stable public security to lay the groundwork with relevant nations and organizations for the GSDF’s withdrawal, so that related risks can be nipped in the bud.
The Defense Ministry should take all possible measures to smoothly implement the GSDF unit’s withdrawal.
The government will continue to dispatch personnel to the headquarters in Juba for U.N. peacekeeping operations. It also intends to increase assistance for South Sudan through international institutions, including support for the improvement of the local police’s capabilities, and food and humanitarian aid.
Cooperation must continue
It is important for Japan to continue offering various forms of cooperation to South Sudan in the pursuit of stability and development in that country.
In November, the GSDF unit was assigned two additional tasks for the first time — “kaketsuke keigo” (rescue missions) and “joint protection of billeting places” — based on security-related laws. This requires the unit to rescue private citizens and others in accordance with the legislation if it receives a request from them for such help. It deserves special mention that it has been made possible to participate in activities consistent with such internationally accepted standards.
When the GSDF unit is actually withdrawn, it means no SDF corps will be engaged in peacekeeping activities overseas. In view of the government’s vow to pursue “proactive contributions to peace,” Japan should actively join peacekeeping operations in the future, too, if the missions are suitable for the SDF.
This year marks 25 years since the establishment of the U.N. Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law in 1992. It is important to examine the details of the SDF activities in South Sudan and apply the findings to similar missions that follow.
What is questionable is the Democratic Party’s response to the matter and those of other opposition parties. They have emphasized what they call “a low standard of public safety” in South Sudan and insisted on the SDF withdrawal, and this has stirred up anxiety among the dispatched SDF members and their families. Did the opposition parties understand what kind of impact will result if Japan hastily withdraws the SDF unit from South Sudan at a time when troops from more than 10 countries are still deployed there?
In Diet discussions, the DP raised persistently questions about the fact that descriptions in GSDF daily reports include the word “combat.” However, the opposition party was refuted by the prime minister, who said GSDF reports written during the days of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government too described armed clashes in South Sudan as “combat.”
The DP’s argument lacks persuasiveness if its efforts to grill the government rebound to its detriment.