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UN Soldaten im Südsudan
A member of Japan's Self-Defense Force watches over a road-construction operation in Juba, South Sudan's capital city, on July 24, 2015.Image: picture alliance/MAXPPP

Japan's troops in S. Sudan cleared for rescue missions

Amien Essif
November 15, 2016

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has approved sending troops to the African country who are cleared to use force in rescue missions. Critics say the move is a departure from Japan's pacifist policy.


Japan has approved a new military mission in South Sudan, a move that critics say violates Japan’s pacifist constitution. It is the first assignment of the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Force, since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government enacted legislation last year that expands the country's military role overseas.

The new non-combative mission begins with the deployment of 350 troops starting on November 20. The troops will assist in protecting UN staff and non-governmental organizations' personnel, and they have been approved to fire warning shots and to engage in combat if attacked. Japanese troops will also have permission to help troops of other nations defend UN peacekeepers' camps.

Japan's role in South Sudan

Japan's Self-Defense Force (SDF) was first sent to South Sudan in 2012 but was limited to helping rebuild the war-torn country's infrastructure. A civil conflict broke out in December 2013 between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar and a 2015 peace deal between opposing forces failed to hold.

UN Soldaten im Südsudan
Since Japan became involved in the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan in 2012, its troops' role has been limited to rebuilding infrastructureImage: picture alliance/Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Japanese Parliament on Tuesday that "South Sudan cannot assure its peace and stability on its own," adding that, “the SDF... is carrying out activities that only it can do in a tough environment."

The UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has been in disarray as of late. After fighting intensified this summer, the mission's commander was discharged for a "lack of leadership" and the underuse of more than 1,800 troops to protect civilian lives.

A threat to pacifism?

Critics of the new mission argue that it violates the Japanese Constitution which does not allow the use of force in settling international disputes. An editorial in the "Asahi" newspaper in October opposed the move on the grounds that South Sudan is "effectively in a state of civil war," implying that permitting self-defense in war zones is tantamount to giving permission to use force.

The new deployment of troops was made possible by security legislation enacted by Abe’s cabinet in March 2015. The new laws permit Japan to exercise the limited right to collective self-defense.

Written during the US occupation after World War II, the Japanese constitution declares that the country will "forever renounce war." If anything, its pledge to pacifism is even stronger than the one written into Germany's post-war constitution - which Berlin is also seeking to gradually soften.

ae/se (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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