Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2015.11.02

Passage of Peace and Security Legislation: How Will the Japan Self-Defense Forces Participate in Contemporary UN Peacekeeping Operations?

Changes in the Security Environment and the Amendment of the PKO Act

 One of the focal points in the recently-passed peace and security legislation was the question of how Japan will participate in international missions such as United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKOs). It just so happens that order has been thrown into disarray across North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring, leading to the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq and frightful battles between various opposing forces within the region. Meanwhile European states are struggling to deal with the massive influx of refugees from these areas. In this way, one of the core issues in the problems surrounding peace and order facing the world today is the meltdown and collapse of this group of nations. Japan's National Security Strategy, published in December 2013, and a cabinet decision made in July 2014 advocating the strengthening of security legislation, express the country's intention to become genuinely involved in these issues facing the international community, under the banner of "proactive contribution to peace." In fact, the rebuilding of this melting down and collapsing group of nations through, for example, UN PKOs, peace operations, or peacebuilding, has always been included within the "changing security environment" stressed in the peace and security legislation, and is within the range of the "proactive contribution to peace" that is the doctrine for dealing with said changing environment. However, opportunities to focus on these problems have become astonishingly limited in debates concerning the peace and security legislation. It may well be said that discussions in the Diet and media have been apt to center on "kaketsuke-keigo" (coming to the aid of geographically distant unit or personnel under attack [rescue missions]), "use of weapons for the purpose of execution of missions," and, above all on how such actions will alter the risk to Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel. Formally speaking, however, there is a need for a macro-perspective that asks what the place is of contemporary PKOs, and how Japan should be involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding as a shift in international security environment. The remainder of this paper will focus in particular on the content of revisions to the PKO Act within the peace and security legislation.

New Mission of Contemporary UN PKOs: Proactively Using Force and Comprehensive Peacebuilding

 Nowadays, 25 years since the end of the Cold War, activities in many fields, including disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR); security sector reform (SSR); support in fields such as elections, human rights, and the rule of law; promotion of the political process; and protection of civilians in areas of conflict, among other tasks, have become the mission of UN PKOs in addition to the traditional mission of supervising ceasefires and troop withdrawals based on a neutral and impartial stance. This expansion of the task of UN PKOs is also known to be a form of peacebuilding operations for the nation-building conducted by the UN. Within such change there has grown a demand for UN PKO units to remove obstructing forces through the use of force, albeit force limited by being "restrained," in order, for example, to protect the civilians. Naturally the risk to personnel is greater in such a mission than in a traditional mission. Recently opportunities have increased for the involvement in such missions of neighboring countries, who have direct interests in the areas in which PKO missions take place, and of former colonial powers, rather than disinterested neutral countries who have very little incentive to engage in PKOs to the point of risking the lives of their own personnel. Meanwhile, even in such cases there is a tendency to try to hand over a stable government to local, preferably friendly, forces as early as possible, since it is unrealistic for neighboring countries, etc. to maintain a long-term presence, due in part to the cost. A situation where foreign troops shoulder the responsibility of protecting the people and maintaining security, which are the foundations of a nation, should essentially be temporary, likely another reason for the tendency to prefer a short-term oriented presence.

 At any rate, the mission of UN PKOs has been enlarged to include (1) proactively using force and (2) peace building and reconstruction assistance in order to eliminate conflict and create a stable national system locally, as well as to enable one's own withdrawal.

Revised UN PKO Act

 Viewed in this manner, the revised PKO Act, which leaves unchanged the five principles of Japanese PKO participation established in the early 1990s, including the principle of neutrality and impartiality and the requirement of a ceasefire agreement between the parties, looks old-fashioned, not to say the least. So-called "kaketsuke-keigo" might be a big step for Japan, but they do not bring some form of new value to UN PKOs. On the other hand, although there was regrettably little discussion in the Diet and elsewhere, the revised PKO Act not only deals with (1) proactively using force, it also deals with (2) peace building and reconstruction assistance. The following is a somewhat rough overview of the points addressed by the revised PKO Act:

(1) Proactively using force

 The addition to the mission description for Japanese troops participating in UN PKOs of patrols and guarding for the protection of residents and affected people (protection of civilians) and the protection of lives and persons in response to emergency requests from involved parties, including the military personnel of other countries (rescue missions); and

(2) Peace building and reconstruction assistance

 The addition to the mission description for Japanese participation in UN PKOs of advice, guidance, and observation related to the operation of prisons; advice and guidance concerning lawmaking, administration, and judicial affairs; establishment and rehabilitation of a national defense structure; and providing the education and training needed to achieve the preceding tasks. Additionally, the planning of various specified operations, as well as coordination and intelligence gathering for those purposes, are also possible.

Note: In addition to the above, the revisions also included new provisions such as the dispatch of Self-Defense Officials as commanders of UN PKOs.

 Viewed from the perspective of responses to the changes in UN PKOs, only (1) above became a topic in the course of deliberations in the Diet and elsewhere, whereas there were hardly any chances for (2) to be noticed. However, the operations under (2) are exactly the kind of peacebuilding operations Japan defines as "the consolidation of peace and nation building." They are also an important addition to the mission description, providing the basis for the qualitative expansion of JSDF initiatives, which had as a general rule been limited until now to logistics support for UN peacekeeping forces. The "establishment and rehabilitation of a national defense structure" is one example. This task does not end with the creation of an organization; it is nothing short of the work of reshaping the military and security apparatus--which in regions of conflict have frequently turned into means for persons in power to suppress the people--into a means to protect the public. In this context, such work will come to include the task of changing the thinking of soldiers, who have been preoccupied with fighting and for whom personal loyalty to a military power and leader is a rightful cause, so that they will follow the law and the system rather than fighting. This initiative is called Security Sector Reform (SSR). For example, in East Timor, where Japan has put effort into its assistance, at one time the national armed forces, made up of former militiamen, were dispatched during a flood. It is said that the soldiers headed to the scene without shovels, although they did bring their guns. Referring to that incident, President Xanana Gusmão is said to have told the Japanese ambassador at that time that he would "like to create the kind of military forces that would bring shovels without being ordered to do so." As indicated by this example, there seems to be tremendous scope and need for operations by the Japan SDF, not just in the simple creation of systems, but also in changing military personnel's way of thinking.

 Additionally, in terms of the implementation of on-site education and training, the revised PKO Act expands the scope for considering future JSDF operations. Typical examples are initiatives that meld seamlessly with existing systems and frameworks, such as support through official development assistance (ODA) and NGO activities, as well as the military-related capacity building assistance for developing countries that the Ministry of Defense and the Japan SDF have begun in recent years. The fact that planning, coordination, and intelligence gathering were added to the mission description for SDF troops will likely take on great significance in such initiatives. Namely, whereas up until now contingents, as a general rule, only carried out work ordered by the UN PKO Command, in the future they will be able to search on their own for local operational needs, and also, when planning operations based on those needs, perform the coordination necessary to incorporate other systems and frameworks such as those mentioned above into their own UN PKO.

SDF Dispatches: For What Purpose?

 The so-called "kaketsuke-keigo" discussed in the Diet and related organizations, whether conducted for the military of another country or for UN civilian staff members or NGO personnel, are not the primary purpose for dispatching SDF troops. Moreover, if it is the case that the use of compelling force in the form of the use of weapons and military force represents the major issue in the revised UN PKO Act, then "kaketsuke-keigo" is out of keeping with the reality of current peace operations. The question that must first be asked is, what will the SDF do, or not do, to remove obstructing forces for the sake of the protection of civilians, or when carrying out a UN PKO mandate that includes the protection of civilians? Consequently, when the focus is put on (1) proactively using force, debate over the revised UN PKO Act is insufficient. If, on the other hand, the focus is put on (2) peace building and reconstruction assistance, even though the matter was hardly discussed at all in the course of deliberations in the Diet and elsewhere, there are many missions that the development of the revised PKO Act has made possible, such as nation-building assistance including security sector reform, reconstruction assistance, and human resources training for those activities. Although the spotlight has been placed only on "kaketsuke-keigo," in fact the revision of the PKO Act has opened up more diverse directions for SDF operations. In that sense, the revised PKO Act should be a welcome legal change. At the same time, these nation-building efforts are not something that can be done by the Japan SDF alone, nor should they be. As discussed earlier, what is important is to think, within the overall system, of the various policies that Japan can take for international peace. From this point of view, the fact that the revised PKO Act developed a legal basis for SDF personnel, although dispatched for a UN PKO, to not only follow orders from the UN but also to identify and create their own projects--a legal basis, so to speak, for Japanese units to exercise their own discretion--also opens up a path for Japan to determine a variety of actions for peace above and beyond SDF dispatches.

 What should be remembered at this time is that the biggest victims exposed to the most violence in the areas where UN PKOs are carried out are the inhabitants and refugees. Even if only for the sake of principle, the mission of UN PKOs is to protect such people and pave the way toward reconstruction, and the restoration of order and stability in the area concerned through such peacebuilding operations contributes to the maintenance of order in the international community itself. Without this point of view, we will end up falling into empty arguments in which building a track record of Japanese initiatives, including SDF dispatches, has itself become the objective.


 When you get to the core of it, the reason why the state system we take as a foundation is generally regarded as preferable compared to IS or a failed state is because it guarantees security for each and every person, allowing them to live free of oppression and violence. That is the purpose of engagement in UN PKOs, even though they contain their own problems and constraints. Like it or not, as long as Japan exists in an international community based on states, the country must take action for such order and peace. It seems that the question of whether or not the first step toward that realization has been taken with the revised UN PKO Act could be the revision's most important point at issue. How can operations based on the revised PKO Act contribute to peace on the ground? It will be important from here on out to think based on this perspective about the shape of future PKOs conducted by SDFunits, and to validate their concrete efforts.