It is deplorable that the Abe administration decided to provide rifle ammunition to South Korean troops engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan without any open discussions of the matter. This will be the first time that Japan has provided ammunition to foreign troops or to the United Nations. The Defense Ministry has explained that refugees were seeking shelter at U.N. facilities that were guarded by South Korean troops in Jonglei State, South Sudan, and that an armed group was approaching.
The Abe administration ignored the Diet in making this important decision — a fact that lawmakers would be wise to reflect upon. The Abe administration’s decision this time can be viewed as an attempt to establish a fait accompli breach of Japan’s long-standing weapons-export ban, which is aimed at precluding the chance of Japanese weapons being used in conflicts abroad.
The decision was made Monday in a National Security Council meeting of the prime minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the defense minister. Abe then got the approval of each Cabinet member. Because the flawed law establishing the National Security Council does not require the NSC to keep minutes of its discussions, it’s uncertain whether a record was made of what was actually discussed.
According to the government, the U.N. on Sunday asked Japan to provide ammunition to the South Korean troops, saying that they were running short of ammunition and that the lives of South Korean troops and refugees would be jeopardized without the ammunition, although on Tuesday the South Korean Defense Ministry said that its troops posted in South Sudan had merely borrowed the ammunition so to ensure a sufficient supply of spares and that they were not running short of ammunition.
Japan provided the South Korean troops with 10,000 5.56 mm bullets — a size used in the Howa Type 89 Assault Rifle fielded by a Ground Self-Defense Force engineering unit now deployed in South Sudan. Apparently there was no other immediate supply of ammo this size readily available
The Abe administration justified its decision by citing urgent humanitarian needs. But it completely ignored the government’s long-established stance on Article 25 of the 1992 law on cooperating with U.N. peacekeeping operations, which concerns the provision of materials. The government’s position until now has been that there is almost no chance that international organizations engaged in humanitarian activities would ask Japan to provide lethal weapons or ammunition and that Japan would decline such a request if made. The Abe administration brushed this position aside, saying that its decision is a one-time exception to the weapons-export ban. The administration also skipped the process of consulting with government officials and considering studies by the Cabinet Legislative Bureau.
On Monday the Abe administration said Japan will contribute to peace and stability of the international community through “proactive pacifism.” But people should not forget that such a policy could also lead to SDF combat operations abroad through the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. The Diet should find out the real situation in South Sudan and strictly scrutinize the Abe Cabinet’s decision to provide the ammunition, which contravened the PKO cooperation law as well as the weapons-export ban.