The Abe administration is examining whether it is possible to allow a high-ranking officer of the Self-Defense Forces to take command over international troops in a U.N. peacekeeping operation, a source said Monday.
The move follows the Cabinet decision July 1 to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, giving the government more leeway to order the SDF to take a bigger, more proactive role in global security.
Japan has long refrained from sending an officer to command troops of other countries due to fears it might go against the constitutional interpretation prohibiting the SDF from integrating with the use of force by other countries, according to the source.
A plan is being floated to revise the action plan regarding the Ground Self-Defense Force’s peacekeeping mission in South Sudan to include the dispatch of a general, along with revising the peacekeeping cooperation law to reflect the Cabinet decision that limited the situations in which SDF actions are banned.
Japan is currently involved in one peacekeeping operation. A roughly 400-member engineering unit headed by a colonel has been engaged in infrastructure work in South Sudan since 2012. The deployment through October is expected to be extended by another year, the source said.
Sending an officer as commander “gains the same level of respect (in the international community) as sending troops,” a senior Defense Ministry official said, point to U.N. expectations for Japan to move in the direction.
But some officials in the government and ruling parties are reluctant to make an SDF officer available for command and call the action premature. They have said that providing a commander for international troops could thrust Japan into combat amid continued instability in South Sudan.
Japan’s new security policy makes it possible for SDF personnel to protect foreign troops taking part in peacekeeping operations when they are under attack.
Under the policy, the SDF should avoid being integrated into the use of force by other countries in places where combat is taking place.
After the country’s first peacekeeping mission to Cambodia in 1992, the director general of the old Defense Agency told the Diet in 1993 that SDF activities would be limited and not include strategy planning.
Separate from the peacekeeping mission, the government decided last Friday to dispatch a senior SDF officer to command a multinational force involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.