It is important to proactively expand international contributions by the Self-Defense Forces based on new legislation.
The government plans to dispatch two Ground Self-Defense Force personnel to the Sinai Peninsula in eastern Egypt to join the headquarters of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), which monitors the ceasefire between the Israeli and Egyptian militaries on the peninsula.
The overseas deployment of SDF personnel had been limited to mainly U.N. peacekeeping operations. The passage of the security-related laws in 2015 opened up the door to the SDF’s participation in “internationally coordinated operations for peace and security” — humanitarian assistance among other similar activities that are not under the auspices of the United Nations.
The activities are similar to U.N. peacekeeping operations. If the latest plan is realized, it will be the first time that the SDF has engaged in such activities under the legislation. It is significant that Japan is expanding the scope of contributions by personnel. This also aligns with the government’s actively pacifist stance.
Japan relies on the Middle East for more than 80 percent of its crude oil imports. From the viewpoint of stably securing energy resources, it is imperative for Japan to be actively involved in stabilizing peace in the Middle East.
The MFO was launched in 1982 following the end of the Arab-Israeli War. It comprises members from 12 countries, including the United States and Britain. Japan has been financially supporting the MFO’s activities. The latest plan to dispatch GSDF personnel is based on a request made by the MFO.
GSDF members will be deployed to the local commander’s headquarters on the southern Sinai Peninsula where they will serve in a liaison role and coordinate missions with the MFO’s participating countries.
The momentum of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist militant group is believed to have diminished, but exercising vigilance against possible terrorist acts cannot be neglected in the Middle East. Although the security situation in the area where the GSDF members are planned to be dispatched is relatively stable, it is necessary for them to pay careful attention to safety while performing duties.
Since 1992, there have been more than 15,000 SDF deployments overseas for missions based on the U.N. Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law and relevant special measures laws. Currently, Japan has command post personnel deployed in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.
There has been no large-scale deployment of SDF units since the 2017 unit withdrawal from South Sudan. This is because the primary duties of U.N. peacekeeping operations have been shifted from monitoring ceasefires to high-risk activities, such as maintaining security and protecting civilians, making it difficult for Japan to dispatch SDF units overseas.
In response to an increasing number of peacekeeper fatalities, a U.N. expert panel has compiled a report in which it urged countries participating in peacekeeping operations to enhance arrangements for their units and personnel mainly by improving equipment.
The five conditions guiding Japan’s participation in peacekeeping operations include the existence of ceasefire agreements between related parties and the minimum necessary use of weapons by SDF personnel. The security-related laws allow the use of arms by SDF members to eliminate obstructions to their duties. However, it has been pointed out that there are still many restrictions on their operations.
It is indispensable to expand opportunities to participate in overseas missions while securing the safety of SDF personnel. Dispatching SDF personnel overseas should be discussed from various perspectives, including how the five conditions should be applied.