The government should exercise caution in having Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) personnel carry out new duties, including "rush-and-rescue" missions to save U.N. personnel and others in remote areas who come under attack by insurgents.
GSDF troops, which have been given these new missions, have been deployed to South Sudan to participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations and have already begun their activities.
The security situation in South Sudan is serious and volatile. A peace accord collapsed after an armed conflict was rekindled between government and anti-government forces in July, which left about 300 people dead, and armed conflicts have since occurred across the country.
Citizens have been attacked, some fatally, and the situation has been labeled a "humanitarian crisis." South Sudan is effectively in a state of civil war.
Support from the international community is indispensable for the reconstruction of South Sudan, which is described by some as a failed state. It is of great significance for Japan to play a part in helping the country to rehabilitate itself.
The Japanese government acknowledges that the security situation of South Sudan as a whole has deteriorated. The government then explains that the situation of Juba, South Sudan's capital, is relatively calm, noting that anti-government troops have fled the city.
However, recent problems involving South Sudan are not limited to the armed conflict between government and anti-government forces. Some soldiers who have freed themselves from control by government forces have attacked U.N. and NGO officials, complicating the situation.
Some opposition parties have expressed concern that if GSDF personnel were to use weapons together with government forces against such soldiers in rush-and-rescue missions, it could constitute use of force banned by the war-renouncing Constitution. Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii pointed that out in a recent Diet debate between party leaders.
In response, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "The president and vice president (of South Sudan) both welcome Self-Defense Forces (SDF). The fact that the president and vice president who represent the government accept SDF personnel means that South Sudan's government forces and the SDF will never clash."
The prime minister's explanation appears logical, but there may be cases where GSDF personnel could hesitate about whether to use weapons in chaotic situations.
It must be kept in mind that GSDF peacekeepers are supposed to engage in rush-and-rescue missions only in cases where it is necessary and possible. Even if requested, GSDF peacekeepers should not carry out such missions if situations surpass their capacity.
A document the government released when it decided at a Cabinet meeting to give the new missions to GSDF peacekeepers states that GSDF personnel "will carry out rush-and-rescue missions as emergency and temporary measures within the personnel's capabilities." The document also says that if it is difficult for GSDF personnel to carry out meaningful activities while ensuring their own safety, the government will pull out the personnel even if the five conditions for participating in peacekeeping operations are met. This has been incorporated in the implementation plan for Japan's participation in the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
GSDF troops participating in the mission should carry out their mission in line with these guidelines while staying on guard, and contribute to the stability of South Sudan.