The government will dispatch some 300 Self-Defense Forces members to join the U.N. peacekeeping mission in quake-devastated Haiti. This is a substantial addition to the 39 SDF members currently engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO). Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said that the expanded mission will promote his “diplomacy of fraternity,” and will have important benefits for Japan’s ties with the United States and the United Nations.

Japan was slow in its initial response to the Haiti quake. The SDF unit, which includes some 200 engineers plus logistics personnel, will mostly engage in removal of debris and construction of homes and roads. Apart from Mr. Hatoyama’s political considerations, it is hoped that the unit makes real contributions to the reconstruction of Haiti.

A dispatch of SDF members for PKO must meet the five-point principle under the 1992 PKO Law, which includes the existence of a ceasefire agreement between parties to a conflict. The Defense Ministry says that the conditions for the SDF dispatch have been met since there are no armed conflicts in Haiti involving state or quasi-government groups. Still, the security situation there is not good, as shown by looting and other examples of lawlessness.

Ms. Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, a junior coalition partner, said SDF members should be taught about Haitian culture and other conditions on the ground so that they can avoid potential conflicts with Haitians; that Japan should immediately withdraw the SDF unit if the five-point principle is no longer satisfied; and that the unit must provide strong support for civilian medical and other relief teams. Other government leaders have accepted her reasonable proposals. The Defense Ministry must take care when selecting the locations where SDF members will reside and work, to prevent the chance of their becoming involved in conflict.

Japan recently increased its financial aid to Haiti from $5 million to $70 million. Haiti’s reconstruction will take years. Japan should be prepared for long-term commitment.

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