Japan Should Be More Active Peace Contributor

ASIA--PACIFIC, 1 May 2017

Shinichi Kitaoka | The Japan News - The Yomiuri Shimbun

[From TMS editor: We do not endorse the author’s main argument, reasoning and conclusion. The point is the discussion about militarism not only in Japan but throughout the world.]

17 Apr 2017 – The government has decided to withdraw the Self-Defense Forces’ troops from the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) at the end of May. I feel the decision is a little regrettable but at the same time think it could be the right one.

Let’s look back on the situation in South Sudan, where SDF troops have been dispatched since January 2012.

South Sudan used to be part of the Republic of Sudan but it had been longing for independence for a long time. The Republic of Sudan originally comprised the northern region, a predominantly Islamic area where mainly cattle-herding tribes dwelled, and the southern region, an area where cattle-herding and farming tribes coexisted, believing in either indigenous animism or Christianity. The north was consistently superior to the south in many ways, igniting north-south conflicts.

The protracted north-south strife finally came to a halt in 2005 when the two sides signed a peace agreement. In 2011, a referendum took place in southern Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan emerged as an independent country.

South Sudan is a landlocked country 1.7 times the size of Japan and has a population of about 12 million. As such, it is not a small country. But it remains one of the world’s most impoverished places. Indeed, when it became independent, even in the capital Juba, few roads were paved and there were virtually no buildings taller than two stories.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency, for its part, has extended various forms of assistance to southern Sudan since before it became independent, as the area had badly needed fundamental infrastructure.

JICA’s ongoing cooperation endeavors there include two much-needed construction projects. One of them is to build a new bridge across the Nile for the country, which currently has the deteriorated Nile River Bridge as the sole link across the river. The other is to improve Juba’s river port. It is against this background that the Japanese government has dispatched an SDF contingent, mainly comprising engineering soldiers, to Juba to undertake road repairs and other types of construction work.

In southern Sudan, tribes remained united while the area confronted the north. However, once the south gained its independence, tribal conflicts intensified, especially those between the largest tribe, Dinka, and its main rival, Nuer. The confrontation between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar reflects the unabated state of the strife between the two main tribes. In South Sudan, therefore, there exists no tangible sense of national unity.

Government troops loyal to Kiir and rebels backing Machar are far from being disciplined — they sometimes assault residents and rob them of their belongings. On top of such disorder, the population of South Sudan is being threatened by possible famine due to severe drought, with hundreds of thousands people already fleeing to neighboring Uganda.

At present, the situation in Juba itself looks relatively stable largely because the capital is controlled by government troops. The Japanese government recently commented that Juba’s security conditions were “stable,” while media reports pointed to the possibility of South Sudan being thrown into havoc. In reality, both of them are right.

5 Helpful Steps

What can we do for the country under such circumstances? There are five possible approaches.

First, the international community should step up assistance to people in South Sudan who need emergency food supplies. Red Cross workers and World Food Program staff undertake difficult and dangerous tasks in the country to help locals. Infrastructure is still insufficient and they are prone to bandit assaults, so they occasionally have no choice but to rely on airborne operations to drop aid supplies from the air.

Second, U.N. peacekeeping operations should be strengthened. The purpose of this is to maintain the order and safety of South Sudan, prevent the confrontations between government and rebel forces from escalating and contain ethnic violence as a whole. The U.N. Security Council has approved the deployment of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force as a way of reinforcing UNMISS.

In this regard, it should be noted that there are almost no countries in the world that pull their troops from U.N.-mandated peacekeeping missions for safety reasons.

Third, the international community needs to persuade and put pressure upon both the government and insurgent forces to get their soldiers sufficiently disciplined, behave responsibly and reach a truce. In December last year, the United States drafted a U.N. resolution to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan. The U.S.-proposed resolution was rejected by the Security Council because Japan, thinking it would provoke Juba, joined seven other countries, including three from Africa, in abstaining. The South Sudanese government later thanked Japan.

Fourth, the international community should make greater commitments in extending assistance to the country with a view to enabling it to concentrate on efforts toward genuine development in the years to come. This is a somewhat future-oriented approach.

Fifth, the international community should encourage South Sudanese people to promote national reconciliation. As part of this, last year JICA supported a national athletic meet under the title of “National Unity Day.” The event turned out to be a great success, as it was designed to create an atmosphere that transcended tribal hostility in favor of national reconciliation. Similar events were successfully held in January and February this year.

What SDF troops have been doing in Juba is rather in line with the fourth approach. The SDF contingent currently in the capital is authorized by a new law to rescue U.N. staff and members of nongovernment organizations under attack, or protect from armed attack the camps that SDF troops use jointly with units from other countries. Nonetheless, the contingent is composed of engineering troops who are not likely to be good at taking up an armed peacekeeping duty.

Role of SDF Units

As it happens, the participation of SDF troops in U.N. peacekeeping operations is defined as part of Japan’s “more proactive contribution to peace.”

Such international contribution was advocated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following the submission of a report to him in December 2013 by the Council on National Security and Defense Capabilities, an advisory panel I chaired. The same pledge was also incorporated into the government’s Development Cooperation Charter of 2015. As a result, it now is a priority policy of the Japanese government.

When Prime Minister Abe committed to making a “more proactive contribution to peace,” some commentators who criticized the new policy for being confusingly similar to the concept of “positive peace” popularized by Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies.

Galtung defined an ordinary state of peace with the absence of war as “negative peace” and a state of peace with the absence of structural violence, such as oppression, poverty and discrimination as “positive peace.”

However, since the prime minister began pledging to make a “more proactive contribution to peace,” the Japanese policy has not been meant to define peace in the way Galtung did. First and foremost, its emphasis is on “more proactive contribution” to peace. Therefore, Abe’s critics were off the mark.

What is worse, there were people who criticized the government for endangering Japan by attempting to meddle in conflicts in foreign countries by deploying SDF troops abroad. As far as the new security legislation is concerned, such a development is simply beyond imagination. It can never happen, given Japanese society’s strong apathy toward war and its inclination to give the utmost importance to people’s safety. The recent decision by the government to withdraw SDF troops from South Sudan is proof of my assertion.

The concept of making a “more proactive contribution to peace” literally means that Japan should make further efforts to ensure peace in the world. The truth is that Japan has not necessarily contributed much to peace. When SDF troops leave Juba at the end of May as planned, there will be virtually no Japanese personnel involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations anywhere in the world. Until just recently, Japanese troops had not been permitted to fulfill the minimum requirements in U.N. peacekeeping operations — rescuing civilians and U.N. staff under attack, or protecting the camps jointly used by SDF and other troops from armed attacks.

Last year, the U.N. secretary general appointed Japanese diplomat Tadamichi Yamamoto his special representative for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is not involved in peacekeeping operations. However, as of now, there are neither Japanese serving as U.N. peacekeeping mission leaders nor Japanese policemen assigned to such missions.

Remaining true to its conviction — which is correct — that economic development can lead to peace, Japan has been active in extending economic assistance to developed countries. Such efforts deserve praise. However, it must be pointed out that Japan’s official development assistance accounts for 0.2 percent of its gross domestic product, far below the goal of 0.7 percent set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for its Development Assistance Committee members. This is one of the lowest levels among the world’s industrialized countries.

A Step Forward for Peace

The concept of “more proactive contribution to peace” was adopted in the hope of enabling Japan to take a step or two forward in contributing to peace in the world, while taking realities into account.

Looking back, the then Democratic Party of Japan government decided in 2011 to dispatch SDF troops to South Sudan and the subsequent governments led by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition made one decision after another to maintain the mission. Finally, the Abe Cabinet decided to expand the SDF contingent’s duties. Because all those steps can be collectively seen as a modest step forward, I said at the outset of this article that I felt a little regret about the latest government decision to withdraw SDF troops from South Sudan.

However, it is true that every government has to pursue its policies within the limits of political dynamics. If SDF troops are involved in a serious event in South Sudan, it will become highly difficult to send SDF troops elsewhere on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the future. For that reason, it was not a bad decision to pull the SDF contingent from the African country while Japanese troops remained free from serious outcomes.

Put simply, political dynamics means the prevailing level of voter support at any given time. It is quite hard to expect politicians to press ahead with a policy that is extremely unpopular among voters.

In the Diet, lawmakers have recently been too busy debating whether the SDF mission in South Sudan adheres to the five principles stipulated by law for deploying SDF units overseas, including one ensuring that the parties in the conflict concerned must have reached a ceasefire agreement. As for this matter, I think opposition parties are too inflexible in interpreting those principles in response to realities. Lawmakers have also been too focused on the Defense Ministry’s questionable handling of the South Sudan-based SDF contingent’s daily activity log.

I too think it was an inexcusable blunder. But members of the Diet should instead have looked into what contributions Japan would really make to bringing peace to South Sudan.

In the first place, we need to keep in mind that Japan has not contributed much to peace in the world. There have been many Japanese who have been critical of the participation of SDF troops in overseas activities in the name of pacifism. They now need to come up with ideas for alternative solutions for Japan to contribute to peace. Otherwise, people in other countries are likely to regard Japanese people as egoists wearing a mask named pacifism.


Kitaoka is president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a post he assumed in October 2015 after serving as president of the International University of Japan. Concurrently a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, he specializes in Japanese political and diplomatic history. From 2004 to 2006, he served as Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Go to Original – the-japan-news.com


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One Response to “Japan Should Be More Active Peace Contributor”

  1. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    In the above article, Prof. Shinichi Kitaoka, a close ally of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is discussing the soft side of Japan’s military and peace issues. That is probably because he is currently the President of the Japan International Coopration Agency, a subsidiary agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. He also discussed the hard side of Japan’s military and peace issues, for example, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/05/opinion/shinichi-kitaoka-a-new-role-for-japans-military.html

    That may remind the TMS readers, especially those of the US readers, of the relations between the US AID (United States Agency for International Development) and the US military; the former implements the soft side of the US foreign policy, while the latter, the hard side of the same US foreign policy.