The Abe administration is considering waiting until November 2016 or later to expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces in the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan under the controversial security legislation passed last month, according to a government source.
The current plan is to make the change in May, but that could have a negative impact on the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Upper House election next summer, the source said Sunday.
The delay would also give the SDF more time to prepare for the new mission, the source added.
Despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to give the SDF a greater role abroad, the public remains wary about the major shift in Japan’s security policy.
Under the new security laws expected to take effect by March, SDF personnel taking part in a U.N. peacekeeping mission will be able to use weapons in operations to rescue foreign troops and U.N. staff members should they come under armed attack.
The Defense Ministry is hoping to decide new rules of engagement for the SDF by the end of the year and then start training based on them.
As the SDF rotates troops in South Sudan biannually, usually in May and November, those to be sent next May can technically be authorized to act under the new laws.
But Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has indicated that it will be “vital” to take a measured approach rather than rush to apply the laws in the face of strong public opposition.
Ground Self-Defense Force troops have been helping to develop infrastructure in the African country since 2012 after it became independent in 2011 following two decades of civil war.
Because the new security laws are also designed to enable closer cooperation with the U.S. military, the administration is seeking to revise the bilateral acquisition and cross-servicing agreement possibly by the end of October, the source said.
Japan has been in talks with the United States to decide on a joint operation plan between their forces and set up a coordination mechanism to respond to various scenarios.
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