The Self-Defense Forces have been given the green light to train for new duties added under new security legislation last year that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cast as a way for Japan to play a bigger role in peace-building.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Wednesday said the next rotation of troops to South Sudan will on Thursday be training for kaketsuke keigo, or coming to the aid of other nations’ peacekeeping troops and civilians under fire.
The 9th Division of the SDF’s North Eastern Army, based in Aomori, is scheduled to head there in November, swapping out the unit currently deployed, the engineering unit of 350 Ground Self-Defense Force personnel. The troops serve as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).
The personnel will be the first trained specifically to protect other troops. They will also receive training to work with soldiers of other countries in the protection of camps in Juba.
Inada said it is important for the SDF to prepare for their own safety and to train for all contingencies as the SDF takes on new roles.
“The situation surrounding Japan is becoming severe,” Inada told reporters. “It is important for the SDF to receive training within what’s been allowed by the Constitution because expectations for the contribution by the SDF are higher.”
Kakestuke keigo, which literally means rushing to the rescue, is a new concept for the SDF. It was introduced by an amendment to Japan’s peacekeeping cooperation law. Before, the SDF could only defend those under its protection. But now the SDF members will be able to protect United Nations staff members as well as citizens and soldiers of other nations who are under attack at locations away from the SDF unit’s base.
Although the legislation took effect almost five months ago, the government made no move to begin training before the last month’s Upper House election. Critics of the legislation continue to call it unconstitutional.
In the meantime, the SDF has been preparing for the mission by updating its rules of engagement, which determine how and when arms may be used. Commanders have also been teaching troops about the changes.
In May, troops joined the Mongolia-based multinational peacekeeping exercise Khaan Quest to gain experience of the cooperation that might be required in trouble spots.
The ruling bloc’s landslide victory in the Upper House election in July was an apparent green light to begin full-scale training.
Still, deteriorating conditions in South Sudan have fueled uncertainty, especially after days of fighting between soldiers answering to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to Vice President Riek Machar.
Amid fears of a return to a state of civil war, UNMISS said it will evacuate some staff while continuing “critical operations,” including protecting civilians and providing humanitarian assistance. The Japan International Cooperation Agency also evacuated its staff.
Still, Inada said earlier this month that the conditions meet five principles for SDF participation in peacekeeping, including the one demanding that a cease-fire be in place.
A source close to Inada said she may try to visit the country before the Diet reconvenes in September.
Meanwhile, the scope of action by the troops will be limited. A defense ministry official said the SDF will go to the rescue of other troops and U.N. workers only when an attack occurs near the camp. He also said that the SDF will not travel to a remote place to protect people under attack, as the SDF’s main role in South Sudan is engineering.
Meanwhile, Inada’s announcement allows the SDF to begin training for other contingencies under the security legislation, including coming to the defense of allies. This is allowed if Japan’s existence is threatened, even if it is not under attack itself.
The Defense Ministry said Japan will pursue such scenarios in bilateral and multilateral military exercises.
Yet the ministry said the SDF is not ready to be trained to protect the U.S. vessels, one of the roles that security legislation added, as coordination with the U.S. has not finalized.