Japan caught in bind as conflict flares in South Sudan
TOKYO -- With South Sudan on the brink of a civil war, Japan faces a growing dilemma as it hopes to maintain a peacekeeping mission in that country without exposing its Self-Defense Forces to armed conflict.
Deepening political rivalries and intensifying ethnic divisions are threatening the African nation. Rebel forces led by former Vice President Riek Machar have taken control of key areas, while government forces under the command of President Salva Kiir are said to be fighting back.
To protect increasingly beleaguered civilians, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for the reinforcement of the U.N. mission in the republic, and Security Council members have agreed to comply.
Japan has roughly 400 SDF personnel stationed in South Sudan, providing humanitarian support. But as violence escalates, the troops are confined to their base camp in the capital of Juba. "The SDF will continue to engage in supportive initiatives, and we will continue to undertake necessary measures" for security, said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in a statement.
With its constitution banning Japan's SDF from waging war, the government has set five conditions for participation in peacekeeping operations, including a cease-fire agreement between warring parties. Government and ruling bloc officials worry that an increase in clashes between pro-government and rebel forces in South Sudan will make it harder to argue that the cease-fire condition is being met.
But withdrawing the SDF personnel will not be easy for a prime minister who has advocated a more aggressive global role for the country. He wants Japan to engage in "proactive pacifism" by sending peacekeeping missions and making other international contributions.
"The government needs to have an open discussion, including a possible withdrawal" if the probability grows that any of the five conditions are no longer being met, says Yuji Suzuki, Hosei University professor of global politics.
The government's decision to provide ammunition to South Korean troops taking part in the U.N. mission in South Sudan has also raised concerns among critics who see the move running afoul of the country's ban on weapons exports.