Questions of whether South Sudan is in a state of war or if the cease-fire there is still holding pose a test for the legality of the decision by the Abe administration Tuesday to extend the Self-Defense Forces’ peacekeeping operations there until next March.

With the Cabinet’s approval, a Ground Self-Defense Force unit based in Aomori Prefecture will deploy to the strife-torn African country’s capital of Juba sometime in November to replace the current unit that has been engaged in engineering operations as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The five-month extension comes as the Abe administration is mulling whether to expand the SDF’s mission parameters to include kaketsuke keigo, or coming to the aid of other nations’ peacekeeping troops and civilians under fire, as well as jointly guarding base camps with U.N. peacekeeping troops. Both require levels of military force beyond just self-defense.

Such mission parameters became legal after the enactment of security legislation enabling the SDF to do more to maintain global peace.

But the question now is whether the current legal framework for peacekeeping operations can be applied to South Sudan, given the complicated nature of its armed conflict, which includes nonstate players similar to the status of the Islamic State militant group.

If the government determines there is a state of war, the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution prohibits the use of force as a means to solve international conflict. If the cease-fire is viewed as still holding, then the new security laws allow for greater SDF participation.

In documents handed out by the government Tuesday explaining why the mission was extended, the Abe administration described the situation in South Sudan as “extremely bad and there have been incidents where many citizens were killed.”

But the government denies that fighting in August between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, leaving at least 300 people dead, constituted an open conflict.

The Abe administration has repeatedly maintained that Machar can not legally be considered a party to the conflict because he does not represent a country or quasi-country that has control over territory and a population.

Machar recently said in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun that a cease-fire agreement, which is also a condition for the SDF to participate in peacekeeping operations, has failed. Government officials, for their part, pointed to a statement made by the Joint Monitoring Evaluation Commission, whose chairman, Festus Mogae, said last week the peace treaty is holding.

JMEC is an organization that monitors implementation of the 2015 peace agreement between Kiir and Machar.

Abe and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada have been repeatedly grilled in the Diet on whether the South Sudan operation still fulfills the government’s five principles for SDF personnel to participate in a peacekeeping mission.

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