GSDF debris clearing vehicle in Tohoku.

Elements of the ruling DPJ party has been trying to make an international commitment to the South Sudan for years, all the way back to the Yukio Hatoyama administration. That initiative failed and was subsequently unpopular during the Naoto Kan administration. (So, about  a year.) Now, current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is once again planning to commit 300 GSDF engineers to South Sudan next week when he visits New York.

The government plans to soon send a survey team to the recently created country, and a dispatch would likely take place early next year, the sources said.

The survey team will gather information on local needs, the security situation and supplies of food and fuel, according to the sources. Based on the team’s findings, the government will be able to decide on specific details such as the size of the unit and its mission. (Link)

This is not a new proposal. Prime Minister Hatoyama first broached the idea of sending a survey team in May 2010, but it went nowhere when Hatoyama’s government floundered over the Okinawa issue. The Kan administration, particularly Defense Minister Kitazawa, was against such a mission.

When Ban visited Japan in August, he held meetings with then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and requested that Japan send a GSDF engineering unit to the peacekeeping mission in the oil-rich African nation.

At the time, Kitazawa said it would be difficult to send Self-Defense Forces engineers because they were engaged in rebuilding operations following the March 11 quake and tsunami, and some were participating in a U.N. mission in Haiti.

Kitazawa said Japan would limit its involvement to dispatching two SDF officers in rotation to the U.N. mission headquarters. The government started sending GSDF engineers to the U.N. Mission in Sudan in 2008. The two officers have taken charge of managing logistics and a security information database at the mission’s headquarters.

Some in the Defense Ministry are cautious about sending GSDF engineers to South Sudan at the present time because of the unstable security situation and the difficulty in securing supplies, the sources said.

The South Sudanese already have big expectations of the Japanese.

South Sudan’s information minister, Benjamin Marial, said his country would welcome the dispatch of GSDF engineers.

Marial described Japan as a friend of South Sudan, and said he hopes the GSDF unit would help build infrastructure such as roads and train the country’s military in carrying out construction work.

The United Nations has sought Japan’s support in its nation-building efforts in South Sudan, which became an independent state in July.

Sending engineers to the South Sudan would be a great idea if the Noda administration can actually make it happen. But at this point, I don’t think anyone would be surprise if it can’t.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch