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Thursday, June 28, 2012

PKO legal revision stuck in the mud

Government agencies slow to back freeing up SDF gun use


The 20th anniversary of the peacekeeping cooperation law came and went June 15 amid growing calls for revisions to allow the use of weapons by Self-Defense Forces personnel involved in U.N. peacekeeping activities in line with "international standards."

News photo
Remote control: Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto (left) speaks to Ground Self-Defense Force peacekeepers in South Sudan during a televised meeting from Tokyo on June 20. KYODO

Yet there are no clear prospects for the Diet to address such a legislative revision due to an inability — either by design or through ineptitude — by the government to coordinate efforts on the controversial issue between the various ministries and agencies.

The government launched work on the original law following the 1991 Gulf War. Japan contributed $13 billion for the U.S.-led multinational forces that drove the Iraqi troops out of Kuwait but didn't send any SDF personnel, inviting criticism for "paycheck diplomacy."

The Diet passed the legislation in June 1992 despite "ox walk" filibustering tactics by opposition lawmakers.

The law took effect the same month, enabling the government to assign SDF personnel to U.N. peacekeeping activities in Cambodia that September. To date, more than 8,000 SDF personnel have been dispatched on 14 peacekeeping missions.

The Democratic Party of Japan, which wrested power from the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party in the 2009 general election, was initially reluctant to revise the law, according to a Defense Ministry official.

The DPJ changed its stance, however, after Japan drew praise for sending SDF personnel to Haiti in February to participate in what was called a U.N. peacekeeping mission, although the job was actually postquake relief.

Last November, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided to send SDF personnel to South Sudan even though the Defense Ministry urged him to think twice before initiating the dispatch.

In the meantime, voices have increased to get the legislation changed.

With the 20th anniversary of the peacekeeping cooperation law approaching, Yasushi Akashi, former undersecretary general of the U.N., sent a message to the Cabinet Office's Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters.

Although SDF personnel must adhere to the Constitution, they should be allowed to expand their peacekeeping activities to "internationally accepted levels," he said.

The number of Japanese personnel involved in U.N. activities, including peacekeeping missions, totaled 499 as of the end of April, the 38th-highest figure among member countries.

The priority for peacekeeping operations is shifting away from ceasefire surveillance and other traditional peacekeeping activities toward long-term "peace building," such as nation-building after conflicts.

An LDP lawmaker and many others point out that even if Japan wants to get more deeply involved in peacekeeping activities, the law as it now stands limits the SDF's use of weapons to the minimum necessary, mainly for self-defense.

The revision planned by the government includes allowing, with some conditions, SDF personnel to defend peacekeepers from other countries if they are attacked. The government is also considering authorizing them to defend camps they share with troops from other nations.

But a revision allowing the defense of other nations' troops from armed attack would undoubtedly be contentious as it may violate Article 9 of the Constitution, which bans the use of force overseas.

The Defense Ministry is taking a cautious stance on the grounds that such a change would expose SDF personnel to greater danger.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba has admitted to delays in coordination on the issue within the government.

"The government as a whole is not in a position yet to adopt a unified view," he said.

Under the circumstances, it is uncertain when bills to revise the peacekeeping cooperation law will be presented to the Diet, which is expected to be occupied with tax increases and social welfare reforms for the rest of the current legislative session.

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