SDF mission in South Sudan

The government on Dec. 20 adopted an action plan to send Ground Self-Defense Force engineers in 2012 as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), in which some 5,500 people from 59 countries are taking part.

This is the second peacekeeping operation mission involving the Self-Defense Forces since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power, following a PKO mission to quake-devastated Haiti in February 2010, and the ninth since the SDF’s first PKO mission in Cambodia in 1992.

It is hoped that the GSDF engineers give full play to their capabilities with strict discipline to build infrastructure badly needed by South Sudan, which became Africa’s 54th independent country in July, seceding from Sudan after many years of civil war.

The GSDF engineers are scheduled to work in and around South Sudan’s capital Juba. Some 210 GSDF engineers will arrive there by March and start building infrastructure such as roads, bridges and city water facilities around April. They will be replaced by some 330 newly arriving GSDF engineers in June, when the infrastructure building work will go into full swing. The GSDF members will take 160 light armored vehicles, heavy construction machine vehicles and trucks. Although the action plan envisages ending the mission by the end of October, the government is considering prolonging it to about five years.

GSDF officers are worried about the security situation in South Sudan. The country is rich in oil resources but the oil needs to go through pipelines in Sudan to be exported. After negotiations on division of profits from oil sales became deadlocked, military conflict such as air raids and land fighting took place near the border in November and December. Those places are several hundred kilometers from Juba.

The GSDF members are carrying some 300 rifles and five machine guns. The use of weapons by SDF peacekeepers is strictly restricted to such purposes as self-defense and defending personnel under their control. There are calls for relaxing the rule.

It must not be forgotten that the SDF’s peacekeeping operations have earned international praise because they have faithfully followed the rule based on the principle of Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution. Relaxing of the rule could pave the way for the use of military forces overseas prohibited by the Constitution.