On Feb. 10, the Ministry of Defense will send 28 Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) officers to Vietnam under the UN Project for Rapid Deployment of Enabling Capabilities (RDEC). The GSDF officers will train Vietnamese “instructors” who can teach others how to operate the heavy machinery indispensable to such work as road construction.
At a UN PKO high-level meeting in September 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the SDF would provide training to officers involved in peacekeeping operations (PKO). With this, Japan began providing training in the operation of heavy machinery in Africa in 2015 and in Asia in 2018. The SDF also started offering medical education in 2019 to train officers who can provide first aid. Japan has dispatched a total of more than 200 GSDF officers to over 20 countries so far.
The SDF has not sent its units on PKO missions since its engineering unit returned from South Sudan in May 2017.
In the prospective sites for sending the SDF, there is a growing risk of violence fueled by conflicts between different tribes and religions. For the SDF to be dispatched on a PKO mission, the project needs to satisfy five criteria, including the conclusion of a cease-fire agreement among the parties concerned. But there are fewer and fewer candidate sites whose safety level is high enough to meet the criteria.
In the past few years, some 100 PKO officers have lost their lives every year because they were dragged into an armed conflict in the area where they were serving. In recent years, Japan and other advanced nations have been sending fewer units on PKO missions, and there are more cases where emerging and developing countries in Asia and Africa perform the PKO function.
Defense Minister Taro Kono said: “Peacekeeping operations are an important activity. We’d like to steadily continue to build the capacities of our engineering units and medical officers so that they can fully display Japan’s skill.” (Abridged)