The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 2 approved a plan to dispatch two senior Ground Self-Defense Force officers to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) on the Sinai Peninsula in eastern Egypt.
The MFO is an international peacekeeping force overseeing the terms of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979.
The dispatch will mark the first operation of “international cooperation activities for peace and safety,” approved under Japan’s 2015 national security legislation, that involves SDF participation in international peacekeeping missions that are not under the auspices of the United Nations.
Although the planned dispatch spells the first major expansion of the SDF’s overseas activities without the U.N.’s “imprimatur,” the matter has hardly received sufficient examination by the Diet.
The government insists that conditions in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula have been “mostly tranquil,” and that they meet the so-called five principles of SDF participation in peacekeeping operations.
Still, the government must take this opportunity to seriously discuss the nature of Japan’s international peace cooperation and explore how best the SDF can bring out the nation’s strength to truly benefit the region.
And for that, Japan must examine not only its track record of participation in peacekeeping operations–which started in Cambodia and then to the Golan Heights and Haiti–but also SDF reconstruction activities in Iraq under a special measures law enacted for the dispatch.
In short, the government must review all past overseas peacekeeping actions, identify crucial issues and draw lessons from them.
Also urgently needed is a thorough re-examination of the mission in South Sudan, which was conducted under extremely unstable and unsafe circumstances that involved armed conflicts.
Under the national security legislation, the government created a new category of SDF mission called “kaketsuke keigo,” which essentially meant “rushing to the rescue of parties under attack.” Although the mission was never carried out and the troops withdrew from South Sudan after a few months, scandals later surfaced with respect to entries in the SDF’s daily log, and the entire mission has never been properly scrutinized to date.
Currently, Japan’s participation in peacekeeping operations is represented only by four senior SDF officers who remain stationed in South Sudan.
But the Abe administration has been looking for a new SDF dispatch destination under the prime minister’s pet slogan of “proactive pacifism.”
With the Sinai Peninsula mission, the administration must be hoping to justify the new SDF duties under the 2015 national security legislation and establish a solid record of SDF activities overseas.
The reason why only two SDF officers are being sent to the Sinai Peninsula this time is that the conditions there render it difficult to dispatch a large unit. This is because many peacekeeping operations have lately changed in nature to those that entail active use of arms to protect civilians in conflict zones.
Against this backdrop, we see various realistic aid options Japan could provide–and for which Japan is well suited–to the world’s war-torn regions.
These options include: creating a program to train or support foreign troops in operating hydraulic excavators and other heavy machinery that are indispensable to reconstruction work; and dispatching SDF troops, police officers, judicial bureaucrats and others to participate in so-called security sector reform (SSR) by assisting in post-conflict reconstruction of the local judicial, military and law enforcement systems.
It is definitely time for the government to snap out of its mentality of trying to build a track record of SDF missions abroad and putting Japanese boots on the ground out of consideration for Washington’s wishes.
The government must strive to improve the quality of aid by heeding the opinions of nongovernmental organs and other parties who are thoroughly familiar with local conditions.