By: Yoshifumi Hibako, former Chief of Staff, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force
Since armed conflict was reported last July, the Self-Defense Force troops stationed in South Sudan have engaged in fewer outdoor operations. They seem to have undertaken fewer engineering projects, such as building bridges, and to be performing lighter operations inside the U.N. compound. In that sense, the troops have completed the mission for which they were deployed.
In addition, we should assume that behind the decision to withdraw the troops at this juncture there was consideration for timing; we must withdraw our troops while we can do so safely. If the troops are repatriated without getting involved in an armed conflict, then the decision to withdraw at this time will be considered to have been the right one.
Some may think that this decision was caused by a consideration for the worsening security environment. However, there is no mission that is absolutely safe. The SDF operates on the premise of some security deterioration. If the place is totally safe, there is no need for deployment. And if the place is clearly dangerous, troops can’t be deployed.
There is a range of “safety” within which SDF deployment is possible. Under the current circumstances, South Sudan should be regarded as satisfying the requirements for the SDF deployment. I don’t believe the timing of withdrawal of the troops was instigated by a security concern.
Furthermore, the withdrawal will not affect future SDF deployments because we will have to make a separate deployment decision each time the possibility arises. Meanwhile, the government must thoroughly explain its decision every time to the Japanese people to avoid misunderstanding.