Dedicated activities increased confidence of Japan

The significance of the Self-Defense Forces’ contribution to post-conflict nation-building is great. Efforts must continue to enhance trust in Japan, based on the SDF’s experience and achievements.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the U.N. Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law, which paved the way for the full-scale dispatch of the SDF overseas.

Based on the law, a total of more than 12,500 personnel have been sent on 29 missions, including peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and South Sudan. SDF personnel were dispatched to East Timor eight times between 1999 and 2012, participating in such activities as repairing roads and bridges.

The disciplined work of the personnel in each location has been greatly appreciated by the international community. The dedication of SDF members and others engaged in U.N. peacekeeping activities merits our respect.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Japan provided enormous financial support to the U.S.-led multinational force, but failed to make a significant human contribution and was harshly criticized both at home and abroad.

The PKO law was passed with the support of then opposition party Komeito and the now defunct Democratic Socialist Party in cooperation with the Liberal Democratic Party, after deliberations that saw rough going due to objections that the law would get Japan involved in war. It is obvious that the criticism at the time was misguided.

Since then, discussions about the overseas dispatch of the SDF have gone back and forth. The Antiterrorism Law, the basis for the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling activities in the Indian Ocean, was not extended in 2007 due to opposition by the former Democratic Party of Japan, which was the largest party in the House of Councillors, forcing the MSDF to suspend the mission.

It is unacceptable to make the nature of international contributions the subject of political struggle. Inward-looking arguments will not be accepted around the world.

Public support for peacekeeping and other similar activities is firmly established. According to opinion surveys conducted by the Cabinet Office, 59% of respondents were in favor of participating in PKO activities in 1994, but the figure increased to 84% in 2021.

Japan is currently dispatching four command personnel to a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. Separate from the framework of U.N. peacekeeping activities, two personnel are currently working in the command post of the Multinational Force and Observers mission on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The Air Self-Defense Force is transporting relief supplies for Ukrainian refugees.

The large-scale dispatch of SDF units has ceased since the withdrawal of personnel from South Sudan in 2017. Peacekeeping activities have become increasingly dangerous, involving such actions as protecting local residents in areas where it is difficult to maintain security, and developing countries are increasingly taking on the responsibility of dispatching personnel.

Self-Defense Force and other Japanese officials have provided training in the operation of heavy equipment and rescue activities in countries from which personnel are to be sent on peacekeeping activities.

While it is important to support the capacity building of countries involved in peacekeeping activities, it is important not only to provide lateral support but also to dispatch SDF units and contribute in tandem with local countries. The security situation in candidate areas must be assessed and the possibility of dispatching personnel must be persistently explored.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2022)