Japan approves plan to send SDF officers to Sinai, on first non-U.N. peacekeeping mission

Kyodo, JIJI

The government on Tuesday approved sending two Self-Defense Forces officers to a multinational peacekeeping force on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula later this month, in what would be the first dispatch of SDF personnel to an overseas mission not under the command of the United Nations.

Japan will dispatch two Ground Self-Defense Force officers to the command of the Multinational Force and Observers, which is tasked with monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and Egypt on the peninsula, between April 19 and Nov. 30 at the MFO’s request.

The GSDF dispatch will be the first case of so-called international peace and security cooperation activity under Japan’s 2015 national security legislation.

The dispatch will “expand the scope of our country’s international contributions,” said Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga separately told reporters that sending the GSDF officers to the peacekeeping force “will further contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East.”

The MFO replaced a U.N. peacekeeping mission in 1982 to monitor the implementation of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel after the Arab-Israeli War, with Japan providing financial support since 1988.

The international body has a total of some 1,200 personnel from 12 countries including the United States and the U.K.

The two GSDF members will be given liaison and coordination duties between the Israeli and Egyptian forces, and will be stationed at the MFO command in Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the peninsula in eastern Egypt. They will be equipped with guns and rifles at the MFO’s request.

The government also plans to send a Cabinet Office official to the Japanese embassy in Cairo for support.

Iwaya said the government has no plans to send an SDF unit there.

The government gave the go-ahead after Kentaro Sonoura, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Takako Suzuki visited the site and judged that the plan meets Tokyo’s requirements for sending SDF members abroad on peacekeeping operations.

Japan’s new security law, which came into effect in 2016, loosened the constraints under the postwar pacifist Constitution and allows SDF participation in some overseas peacekeeping operations even if they are not under the control of the United Nations.

Five legal requirements, known as the five principles, govern participation by the SDF in peacekeeping operations overseas, whether or not the mission is under U.N. control. The principles include the existence of a cease-fire agreement among warring parties.

Japan’s government sent Defense Ministry officials to assess the situation on the Sinai Peninsula in March. The officials determined that the dispatch would not run counter to the five principles.