Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday the government is considering expanding the role of the Ground Self-Defense Force in a U.N. mission in South Sudan in line with Japan’s new security legislation that will take effect in March.
“Since the legislation has been passed, we are thinking of assigning (the GSDF personnel to new) duties. It requires a great deal of preparation and training,” Abe said during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session, referring to new tasks such as coming to the aid of other countries’ troops or U.N. staff under attack.
With the passing of the security laws last year, Self-Defense Forces personnel will be granted the right to use weapons in line with the expansion of their missions. The legislation will ease some restrictions on SDF activities overseas imposed under Japan’s pacifist Constitution.
Japan began sending GSDF troops to South Sudan in 2012 under the U.N. peacekeeping mission UNMISS, which is helping develop infrastructure after the African country gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Since late 2013, South Sudan has been mired in conflicts between government forces and rebels.
“We need to think carefully about what roles they should be newly assigned to. At present, we have not decided whether (the new roles) are required or not,” Abe said. The prime minister did not mention the timing of the possible assignment.
Kazuo Shii, leader of the opposition Japanese Communist Party, said South Sudan is effectively in a civil war and that the GSDF’s use of weapons under such circumstances could “go against Article 9 of the Constitution that prohibits the use of force in a foreign country.”
Abe said, “We will strictly follow the five principles for Japan to join peacekeeping operations and will participate only when conditions are met.”
The five principles are the existence of a cease-fire, the consent of the warring parties, the impartiality of the mission, an immediate withdrawal if any of the conditions are not met and the use of weapons only for self-defense.
The government plans to assign new roles to the SDF personnel in November or later in a bid to prevent controversy over the matter from affecting the House of Councilors election slated for this summer, according to government sources.
When asked by Shii if Japan will provide logistical support to troops engaged in operations against Islamic State militants in other countries, Abe said Tokyo will not offer such support and reject such a request.
A ruling party lawmaker said the same day Japan plans to extend the GSDF dispatch to the U.N. mission in South Sudan by eight months through the end of October.
The extension is scheduled to be approved at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. Government officials explained the extension plan to members of the Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday, the lawmaker said.
The planned extension of the GSDF dispatch is in line with the U.N. Security Council’s decision to extend the mandate of the U.N. mission in South Sudan until July 31.