Bangladeshi peacekeepers are playing an active role in stemming the violence in South Sudan's Jonglei State - Japan is unable to offer its peacekeepers for any similiar missions under the current PKO law

Bangladeshi peacekeepers are playing an active role in stemming the violence in South Sudan's Jonglei State - Japan is unable to offer its peacekeepers for any similiar missions under the current PKO law (Source: UNMISS)

[Forgive me for retreading some of JSW's own Corey Wallace's coverage in his earlier post, "South Sudan and Japan’s ‘international contribution’," followed up by "The SDF in South Sudan."]

There are some signs that the South Sudan mission will be more dangerous than originally anticipated, enough to convince the ruling Democratic Party to reconsider the constraints placed upon the Self-Defense Forces under the current International Peace Cooperation Law (aka the PKO Law). According to the Daily Yomiuri:

Ahead of the dispatch, the DPJ has started looking into revising the U.N. Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law at a joint panel meeting of the Foreign and Defense ministries, with an aim to relax the use of weapons by the SDF personnel on PKO missions, according to the sources.

The ruling party plans to submit a bill to amend the law to an ordinary Diet session next year, the sources said.

- Daily Yomiuri: PKO rules, weapons use might be eased / SDF may need arms in South Sudan (Nov. 3, 2011)

The PKO Law (1992) consists of five limiting principles that have governed what missions Japan has been able to dispatch the SDF to:

  1. Agreement on a cease-fire shall have been reached among the parties to armed conflicts.
  2. Consent for the undertaking of UN peacekeeping operations as well as Japan’s participation in such operations shall have been obtained from the host countries as well as the parties to armed conflicts.
  3. The operations shall strictly maintain impartiality, not favoring any of the parties to armed conflicts.
  4. Should any of the requirements in the above-mentioned guideline cease to be satisfied, the International Peace Cooperation Corps may suspend International Peace Cooperation Assignments. Unless the requirements be satisfied again in a short term, the Government of Japan may terminate the dispatch of the personnel engaged in International Peace Cooperation Assignments.
  5. The use of weapons shall be limited to the minimum necessary to protect the lives of personnel, etc.

- Website of the Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters, Cabinet Office

In the case of the South Sudan dispatch, however, there are some concerns that the SDF might need some more leniency. The Yomiuri article continues:

Although the Japanese government has viewed the security situation in Juba, the country’s capital where the GSDF unit is to be based, as relatively stable, some observers have voiced concerns over local security.

As a result, the DPJ is considering the law revisions to ensure the safety of the GSDF members and enable them to fulfill their duties as smoothly as possible, the sources said.

The five principles currently governing Japan’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations do not allow SDF members to use weapons except for self-defense or emergency evacuations. Even if they were attacked by local rebels, they are not authorized to fire even warning shots. They are also prohibited from backing up other countries’ troops that come under attack.

By revising the law, the government and the ruling party intend to enable SDF members to use weapons in the course of their duties and make Japan’s rules on the use of weapons closer to international standards.

Some critics have argued another PKO principle that requires a ceasefire agreement among parties to a conflict as a condition for an SDF dispatch is out of touch with reality because parties involved in conflict are often difficult to identify.

Some observers have proposed the expression be changed to “major parties,” the sources said.

- Daily Yomiuri: PKO rules, weapons use might be eased / SDF may need arms in South Sudan (Nov. 3, 2011)

The Yomiuri supports these revision efforts, no doubt, as it featured an editorial earlier in the year (which JSW’s own Corey Wallace discussed in depth) calling for a revision of these very principles, stating:

The PKO security situation is not entirely clear in South Sudan, which will become independent on Saturday. If the government decides to dispatch Ground Self-Defense Force units there, there is an urgent need to grant them greater authority to use weapons to secure their safety.

- Daily Yomiuri: 5 PKO principles must be reviewed (Jul. 9, 2011)

Perhaps when the Yomiuri refers to ‘observers’ in the more recent article, they actually are referring to themselves.

At any rate, the restrictions in place are overly restrictive, particularly given Japan’s 2004 foray into Iraq under a Special Measures Law (not the PKO Law) and recent ventures abroad in the Gulf of Aden and building a base in Djibouti. Japan is outgrowing the 20 year old law and the Yomiuri makes several excellent points, first on the use of weapons:

In reviews of the five PKO principles, the most attention is focused on the authority to use weapons, which is now limited to the self-defense of SDF members.

Current standards do not allow SDF members to use weapons to rescue PKO forces from other countries under attack, or abducted Japanese and other nationals. Even if someone blocks its way, an SDF unit is not allowed to fire a warning shot. It has no choice but to take another route.

This makes it difficult for the SDF to work efficiently or in coordination with other countries.

If SDF members cannot use weapons unless they first put their lives in danger to deliberately create a “self-defense” situation in which they are allowed to use them, then the true priorities in the situation have been inverted. SDF members should be allowed to use weapons to carry out their missions in accordance with international standards on PKOs.

- Daily Yomiuri: 5 PKO principles must be reviewed (Jul. 9, 2011)

And then on the requirements of a full mutual ceasefire:

There are more and more PKO cases recently in which it is difficult to determine the parties to armed conflicts, and a clear agreement on a ceasefire has not been made. It is necessary to revise these conditions for Japan’s participation in PKOs by replacing them with more flexible statements.

- Daily Yomiuri: 5 PKO principles must be reviewed (Jul. 9, 2011)

The Yomiuri repeated these calls on the same day that it published the first article quoted here:

One of Japan’s five peacekeeping operation principles strictly limits SDF personnel’s use of weapons. Even though military clashes have occurred recently near the new nation’s northern border with Sudan between government forces and the rebel militia, the Japanese government’s position is that the current standard will pose no problem since the security situation in and around Juba, several hundred kilometers from the region of conflict, is relatively stable.

However, it is highly likely GSDF activities in South Sudan will last for a long period. Assuming changes in the security situation, the government must relax the current standard for weapons use, which is limited to self-defense and emergency evacuation purposes, to enable the GSDF members to use arms for the purpose of performing their duties, for instance.

Members of the Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Committee are discussing what Japan’s PKO activities should be like. We hope the party will come up with a forward-looking conclusion.

- Daily Yomiuri: GSDF’s South Sudan mission significant for nation building (Nov. 3, 2011)

Of course, how far these current discussions will reach is currently anybody’s guess, but it seems unlikely that the SDF will be given the same conditions on carrying weapons, if anything because the backlash against missing ammunition and negligent discharges could possibly be enough to derail public support, and an injury or particularly a dead body would certainly be difficult to square away. It’s a necessary jump, but personally I am not sure the government is willing to let the SDF take it – even if they are ready themselves.

Here’s hoping that they can discuss the issues with open enough minds that they see the potential that lighter restrictions have for increasing Japan’s security commitments around the world and in showing Japan in a good light. This is particularly important in Africa where a shadow war for influence is being waged by the Chinese, and in South Sudan, where Japanese companies are attempting to build South Sudanese infrastructure in order to secure oil imports from the country and neighboring Kenya, something China was very quick to act upon, benefiting from their tight relations with Sudan in the north. The Yomiuri also commented on this in its recent editorial:

Stabilizing the peace in South Sudan, an oil-producing country located in the center of the continent, will contribute to the stabilization of Africa as a whole. The South Sudan mission is also regarded as an important duty as part of international antiterrorism measures.

More than 5,600 military personnel and civilian police officers have already participated in UNMISS from 57 countries. China, which is keen to secure natural resources in Africa and elsewhere, has sent about 370 engineering and medical personnel.

- Daily Yomiuri: GSDF’s South Sudan mission significant for nation building (Nov. 3, 2011)

While Japanese companies are still working on infrastructure within Kenya and elsewhere, Japan is losing its traditional influence on the continent to China and other emerging economies:

While Japan-Africa trade relations have displayed growth momentum, they have been unable to keep pace with the frenetic rise in Africa’s trade relations with the emerging world.

As such, while Japan-Africa trade roughly doubled between 2001 and 2009, China-Africa trade expanded by almost 1,000 per cent, India-Africa trade swelled by 525 per cent; Brazil-Africa trade by 224 per cent and Russia-Africa trade by 262 per cent.

Where in 2001, China-Africa trade was on parity with Japan-Africa trade; by 2009 the volume of China’s trade with Africa was more than five times that of Japan-Africa trade.

- Business Daily Africa: Emerging economies outpace Japan in the battle for trade with resource-rich Africa (Sep. 28, 2010)

There is a lot at stake here, and while it would be wrong to paint the trade picture as being reliant on the outcome of these discussions, and thus paint Africa as a continent riddled with conflict, it is nevertheless important for Japan to get off on the right foot with South Sudan and open the door for further security relations in the future.

For more on the history of Japanese PKO, I highly recommend you look at this mini-site created for the PBS documentary WideAngle entitled ‘Japan’s About-Face’, aired in 2008, and STRATFOR subscribers may be interested in its recent commentary on the nexus of the oil issue and PKO.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch