National / Politics

Japan’s GSDF looks to join non-U.N. peacekeeping force in Sinai

Kyodo

Senior members of the Ground Self-Defense Force might be dispatched to the multinational peacekeeping force in Egypt under new security laws that expanded the scope of Japanese troops’ activities overseas, government sources said.

A GSDF dispatch to the Multinational Force and Observers force, which is in charge of supervising the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that demilitarized the Sinai Peninsula, would be Japan’s first to an overseas peacekeeping operation not under the command of the United Nations.

Tokyo is considering sending the senior officials to the command of the MFO next year once an on-site safety inspection is conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign and Defense ministries as early as this year, the sources said Sunday.

The Japanese government’s Five Principles governing participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations, including one requiring that a cease-fire agreement be in place among any warring parties involved, will be applied to the MFO dispatch decision.

The new security laws that took effect in 2016 loosened some of the legal constraints on the Self-Defense Forces imposed by the pacifist postwar Constitution. As a result, they are now allowed to participate in foreign peacekeeping operations that are not controlled by the U.N., if so requested by international organizations.

The laws also enabled the SDF to take on larger roles, such as missions to rescue U.N. staff and others under attack, and to use their weapons for purposes beyond just self-defense, such as warning shots, during U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The U.S.-initiated MFO has been operating in the Sinai Peninsula since 1982, with Japan providing financial support since 1988. About 1,200 troops from 12 countries including the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Australia have been sent to the MFO.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been promoting Japan as becoming a “proactive contributor to peace,” the SDF’s U.N. mission in South Sudan withdrew from peace-building duties in May 2017 amid speculation Tokyo didn’t want to risk domestic political fallout from fighting between South Sudanese government and opposition forces that could have put its GSDF engineering unit in the middle of a combat zone.

Japan’s current SDF dispatches are limited to senior GSDF officials working as command staff for peacekeeping activities in South Sudan, and the Maritime Self-Defense Force and GSDF members who have been taking part in anti-piracy operations off Somalia since 2009.

The Abe administration has been searching for a new venue to deploy the SDF to provide a visible example of Japan’s contributions to international peace while trying to avoid a situation where Japanese troops may get embroiled in military actions, observers said.

Toshiyuki Shikata, professor emeritus at Teikyo University and former commander in chief of the GSDF’s Northern Army, pointed out that the Sinai Peninsula is perfect for that purpose because there is no military activity nor violent clashes of a religious nature underway there.