Japan has often been criticized by the international community for resorting to “checkbook diplomacy” instead of committing uniformed personnel to danger zones as part of U.N. peacekeeping operations, but the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has signaled it wants that to change.

Greater engagement in U.N. peacekeeping operations would be seen as a positive contribution to the international community. But with the Constitution’s constraints on the Self-Defense Forces, restricting their use of weapons to self-defense, and the aversion of the Social Democratic Party, which is part of the DPJ-led ruling bloc, to any overseas SDF dispatch, pose hurdles.

To date, the U.N. peacekeeping operations the SDF has participated in did not actually require the forces to keep the peace. SDF elements have never attempted to keep warring sides apart, or protect people targeted by the violence of warfare.

What constitutes peacekeeping activities?

U.N. peacekeeping operations started in 1948, according to their mandate, as “a way to help countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace.”

Traditionally, peacekeepers have been deployed to enforce ceasefires and stabilize conflict areas to prevent further warfare, and build peace through means such as negotiations and mediation.

But with the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping missions have evolved beyond resolving armed conflicts. Civil wars and religious and ethnic strife have changed peacekeeping missions. Operations have expanded to encompass a broader social and political context. Peacekeepers are now tasked with bringing stability to trouble spots, including by monitoring elections, working to protect human rights and aiding refugees.

The first peacekeeping mission came in 1948, when the U.N. Security Council approved the dispatch of U.N. military observers to monitor a truce between Israel and its Arab neighbors. To date, there have been 63 U.N. designated dispatches worldwide.

There are currently 115 countries participating in 15 ongoing missions, including in East Timor, Liberia, Kosovo and Lebanon.

What is the origin of Japan’s participation in peacekeeping activities?

Japan was asked to send SDF elements to join the U.S.-led coalition forces that ejected Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in what became known as the 1991 Persian Gulf War. At the time, there was strong public opposition to any overseas military dispatch, as well as joining U.N.-led peacekeeping operations.

Instead of committing SDF elements to the coalition effort, Japan paid $13 billion in support, drawing harsh criticism for resorting to checkbook diplomacy instead of putting personnel in harm’s way. Japan did, however, later send Maritime Self-Defense Force minesweepers to the Gulf after hostilities ended.

The then ruling Liberal Democratic Party had been trying to pass a bill to allow SDF participation in peacekeeping missions. But the bill met strong resistance from the Japan Socialist Party, which is now the SDP, and the Japanese Communist Party. Both used stalling tactics in the Diet to prevent a floor vote.

In June 1992, the LDP managed, with the support of Komeito, another opposition party at the time that later evolved into New Komeito, to enact the legislation.

The law established three pillars for cooperation in building international peace: joining peacekeeping missions, international humanitarian relief operations and international election observation operations.

What peacekeeping missions have involved SDF personnel?

The first dispatch abroad was in September 1992 in Cambodia. Since then, Japan has sent troops to Mozambique, the Golan Heights, East Timor, Nepal and Sudan.

The government in February decided to send 350 SDF engineers and others to Haiti to assist in reconstruction following the devastating earthquake there. The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (known by the acronym MINUSTAH) was formed following a coup d’etat by antigovernment rebels in 2004.

What are the five criteria for Japan to participate in a peacekeeping mission?

For the SDF to be deployed, a ceasefire agreement between parties to a conflict must be in place; the host nation and parties to an armed conflict must agree to their presence; the mission must be impartial; force can only be used in self-defense; and Japanese forces must be withdrawn if any of the other conditions are not met.

Yuji Uesugi, an associate professor of international cooperation at Hiroshima University, argues that the five principles don’t match the current world situation and some are too “restrictive.”

The five principles were drafted “in the early 1990s, after reviewing the principles of the Cold War period,” Uesugi said. “But the PKO situation has changed since then . . . and those principles don’t necessarily suit the current times, resulting in very few missions with Japanese participation.”

Many conflicts have become civil wars with multiple forces fighting each other, making it difficult to determine the existence of a truce or to get all sides to ask Japan to mediate.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has voiced interest in reviewing the five criteria.

Some, however, are against reviewing the principles, Uesugi said, as they see this as just an excuse to make it easier to deploy the SDF abroad.

How do Japan’s contributions compare with those of other countries?

The latest U.N. figures show Japan has a total of 38 SDF peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, Sudan and Nepal. The contribution in Haiti will boost that number, but as of February, Japan ranked 84th in terms of the number of participants. Bangladesh and Pakistan held the top positions, with both dispatching more than 10,000 service members and police officers.

But Japan ranks high in financial contributions, covering 12.5 percent of the peacekeeping budget for 2010, coming in second after the United States, with 27.17 percent.

Are Japan’s peacekeeping activities welcomed?

Yes, say both critics and government officials, including Sukehiro Hasegawa, a professor at Hosei University who has been stationed around the world as a member of the U.N., including in Nepal, Rwanda and Somalia. He also served as the U.N. representative in East Timor.

Hasegawa noted the SDF usually sends out engineering units whose duties include removal of debris, construction of facilities and road repairs.

“These engineering troops have received appreciation” from the international community, he said. “Even with restrictive regulations, there is great meaning for the SDF to participate in PKO missions.”

What is the current public attitude about peacekeeping participation?

According to a 2009 government poll on diplomacy, out of 1,850 people, more than 80 percent supported Japan’s participation. The data showed that 29.4 percent said Japan should increase its participation and 51.0 percent said the current level of contributions should be maintained.

Hiroshima University’s Uesugi said the numbers show public acceptance and support for U.N.-related activities has increased, but for non-U.N. missions, like Iraq, there is still strong opposition.

“Japanese people believe the U.N. does good and it can at least justify its missions through U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Uesugi said. “But Iraq, for example, lacked justification and was not backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution. I think there are a lot of people who still (harbor resentment) against the dispatch to Iraq, which was decided on from the viewpoint of Japan-U.S. cooperation.”

Is the DPJ trying to expand Japan’s peacekeeping participation?

Yes. In its 2009 Lower House election platform, the DPJ stated it would “proactively participate” in U.N.-led peacekeeping missions. Foreign Minister Okada has also repeatedly stressed the need for a greater contribution.

Former U.N. envoy Hasegawa echoed the need for more opportunities for Japan to participate in such missions but said there are various changes that need to be made, including the establishment of a permanent law to dispatch SDF troops abroad.

The restrictive peacekeeping law backs SDF deployments abroad, but for non-U.N. missions, a special law is required each time forces are sent.

Hasegawa said restrictions on the SDF need to be eased to allow the forces to engage in patrols and to use their weapons other than for self-defense.

“It isn’t right for other countries to have to protect Japanese troops when they are in danger while Japan just sits and watches while the other countries are being attacked,” Hasegawa said. Japan “needs to expand the definition of self-defense” in the five principles, he said.

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