Japanese peacekeepers authorized to use force landed in South Sudan on Monday. It’s the first time Japanese troops have had such a mandate in almost 70 years, following legislation last year that circumvented the country’s post-World War II pacifist constitution.
The 130 Ground Self-Defense Force troops that arrived in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, are part of a 350-member team that will take over from a current group of Japanese peacekeepers next month, according to state broadcaster NHK.
The new team has a mandate to “use weapons to defend people, including aid workers, and cooperate with other foreign peacekeepers to protect their camps” during their six-month mission, NHK added. At the same time, they will “not be able to engage with an opposing army,” according to The Associated Press.
Like the previous group, these troops will focus on “work to build roads and other infrastructure as part of the U.N. mission,” The Japan Times said.
South Sudan is embroiled in conflict, pitting government forces who back President Salva Kiir against troops loyal to his main rival, former Vice President Riek Machar.
Some people in Japan worry that the peacekeepers’ mandate opens the door for their country to be sucked into a complicated conflict it has little stake in.
The measures passed last year that paved the way for this deployment were controversial in Japan and strongly backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, The Two-Way reported.
They run counter to Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
As we reported, Abe argued at the time that the expanded powers are “needed to meet regional challenges, such as China and to strengthen Tokyo’s close alliance with the United States.”
Ahead of the flight to Juba, The Asahi Shimbun newspaper spoke with officers at Aomori Airport who expressed opposing views on the upcoming mission:
“One officer in his 40s who has served overseas said, ‘It is inconceivable if SDF members could not go to help Japanese in a foreign nation who asked for help from the SDF.’
“However, another officer was skeptical about the government’s assertion that the duty would not increase the risk faced by SDF members.
” ‘Regardless of how much training is conducted, dangers will increase because the SDF members will confront unknown circumstances,’ the officer said. ‘I wonder if government officials are really aware of what the situation on the ground is like.’ ”