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The UNPKO — Surging Trends and Japan

Yuji Uesugi
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

What is the meaning of the Japanese government’s cooperation with United Nation peacekeeping operations (UN PKOs)? Why has Japan cooperated and what has it done? And what kind of outcomes has it produced? Why are the outcomes significant for the Japanese people?

You might think that I am expecting something in return of being part of the UN PKOs. However, as long as the operation is part of the Japanese government’s policies, it should concern ordinary Japanese citizens. What kind of benefits does being part of the UN PKOs bring to Japan? If it does not serve Japan’s national interests, why does the government want to be part of it? I believe that answering such questions is important as a starting point of policy discussion concerning Japan’s UN PKO policies.

The reason that the Japanese government gives for being part of the UNPKOs is that “stability in the overall international community directly affects Japan’s security and that Japan is required to contribute to the international community in proportion to its international status and responsibility.” The survival of a trading country like Japan depends on global peace and stability. As a beneficiary of the global order, Japan considers being part of the peacekeeping operations important from the perspective of national interests to prevent conflicts that may disrupt the order. Therefore, being part of the UN peacekeeping operations contributes to maintaining the global order, critical for the Japanese people.

Nonetheless, are UN PKOs really an effective means for maintaining international peace and security? Has UN PKOs accomplished its mission to protect civilians fleeing from the battle zone? Has the Japanese government’s cooperation with UN in PKOs been effective? I will answer these questions by reviewing Japan’s cooperation with the UN PKOs and the challenges involved. I wish to emphasize that there is a need for all Japanese citizens to consider Japan’s future ideal international peace cooperation.

Japan’s Contribution to UN PKOs

First of all, Japan’s greatest contribution to the UN PKOs is its financial assistance. In 2015, Japan’s contribution accounted for approximately 11% of the UN peacekeeping budget after the U.S., whose contribution accounted for approximately 28%, the highest of all countries. However, since 2016, not only has Japan’s contribution fall below 10% of the overall peacekeeping budget, China has replaced Japan to be the second biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping budget. Nevertheless, despite being the third biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping budget, Japan continues to contribute more than the other permanent members of the Security Council such as the U.K., France and Russia.

Why, then, has the Japanese government been contributing so much financially to the UN PKOs? Needless to say, the percentage of financial contribution is allocated to UN members in proportion to their national power. Therefore, bearing a fair share of the costs can be considered as a UN member’s obligation. However, are there any other meanings beside that? It can be said that the financial assistance is an appropriate way for Japan—an economic giant—to contribute to the UN PKO, which is acknowledged by other countries and Japan as well.

Other than contributing financially, the Japanese government has also dispatched the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), police and civilians. It is a known fact that the Japanese government and its people have mainly been interested in dispatching the SDFs.

Japan SDFs’ Engineer Battalion in charge of constructing container yards at Sihanoukville Port, Cambodia, on July 9, 1993, based on the Act on International Peace Cooperation (Kyodo News)

However, as seen in the tragedy of Haruyuki Takata from the Okayama Prefectural Police force, who worked as a UN police officer in Cambodia and was gunned down in 1993, the police have also been involved in UN PKOs. The Japanese government has also sent civilians as election observers to countries such as Cambodia, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Apart from direct contribution by the Japanese government, some Japanese people have been working proactively as civilian staff members of the UN PKOs. Yasushi Akashi, for example, served as a Special Representative of the Secretary General in Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia, where the largest-scale UN PKOs at that time were deployed. Also, Sukehiro Hasegawa served as a Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN PKO supporting state-building in East Timor. These cases demonstrated leadership that impressed the international community regarding the presence of the Japanese people.

There are limitations in dispatching SDFs to UN PKOs due to the current Constitution. Therefore, in many cases, operations of the SDFs are limited to logistics support including road construction and resupplying materials.

However, there are records of Japan dispatching headquarters personnel and military observers for the UN PKOs, even though it does not happen as frequently. Moreover, the Japanese government has made persistent efforts in preparing engineering manuals for UN PKO and sending instructors to UN PKO training centers overseas to share the experience of the SDFs. These efforts do not include SDFs’ direct participation in UN PKOs, but it can be said that such efforts have indirectly contributed to raising the level of UN PKOs by developing capacities of other countries that send personnel to the UN PKOs.

Qualitative Changes in UN PKOs

In 1992, soon after the Cold War ended, Japan established the Act on International Peace Cooperation by making reference to UN PKOs during the Cold War. Based on the Act, the Japanese government sent SDFs, the police and civilians to the UN PKO in Cambodia. It was a new type of PKOs that the UN began carrying out after the Cold War. In the process of ending the civil war, a peace agreement was signed among warring parties and UN PKOs temporarily governed the nation by monitoring and supervising the implementation of the agreement until the creation of a new administration through a democratic election. In other words, in the process of state-building after the civil war, Japan participated as a newcomer in creating the “multidimensional” UN PKOs in charge of various tasks vital for state-building, including implementing elections and developing legal systems.

However, at the same time, the international community failed to enforce peace in Somalia, when it tried doing so using force against the warring parties. In reaction to the derailed efforts that significantly exceeded the traditional principles of UN PKOs, subsequent activities by UN PKOs continued to be passive, even when the UN faced humanitarian crises. The UN has failed to prevent the genocide in Rwanda and was powerless against the massacre that occurred in Srebrenica, a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina which was part of the former Yugoslavia. UN PKOs came under intense scrutiny from the international community due to such failures. The role of the UN to maintain international peace was replaced by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which had been looking for new missions since the end of the Cold War. The key role that NATO troops played in ending the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War, both of which attracted interest globally, represents the waning of UN PKOs.

Based on the reflection of UN’s failures in the 1990s as well as the Brahimi Report published in 2000, which included reform proposals for UN PKOs, the UN resumed its operations again despite its past failures in Somalia. Its direction was roughly classified into three areas. First, it amended the basic principles of the traditional UN PKOs by taking advantage of lessons learned from the failure to enforce peace in Somalia and the failure in preventing the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. In other words, the UN decided to implement robust operations at the level between traditional principles and peace enforcement. In these new operations, the rule of engagement used in UN PKOs changed from the traditional thinking that only the minimum use of force for self-defense was permitted to a new way of thinking that the use of force was not ruled out if it was necessary to defend the given mandate. In other words, the principle of self-defense as a standard for the use of force must be compatible with an opposite standard, which is the use of force in defense of the mandate. In fact, this is an abolishment of the principle of non-use of force except for self-defense.

In addition, the UN PKOs began more robust in other ways. For example, UN PKOs with the strongest authority compared with UN PKOs in the past was dispatched to East Timor. In the process of building a new state under the UN’s initiative, UN PKOs were required to provide more diversified support in East Timor than in Cambodia. UN PKOs served as a foundation for resolving issues including humanitarian assistance, development aid, design of governing institutions, human resource development, tribunals of war crimes and reconciliation. New tasks in the post peace agreement phase, such as support for disarming former combatants and their rehabilitation into society, as well as support for the military, the police and the judiciary system, which was called the security sector reform, were also added to the tasks of UN PKOs.

As a third trend, the UN began to conduct peace operations together with regional organizations and coalitions of the willing. For example, in East Timor, the coalition of the willing which mainly consisted of Australian troops ensured security when unrest spread after the referendum in 1999 and after that, a UN PKO was sent to offer the interim administration in East Timor. Meanwhile, in Kosovo, roles of peace operations were shared with other organizations while the UN was providing an overall framework. The UN oversaw public administration, the judiciary and the police; NATO was responsible for ensuring security; the European Union (EU) took the lead in reconstruction and economic development; and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was in charge of democratization.

Japan’s Delayed Response to Environmental Changes

Among the three changes, the Japanese government has not sufficiently responded to the change in the basic principles of UN PKOs. In particular, although the Japanese government has come up with new policies for the use of weapons by the SDFs, it has yet to gain public support. In South Sudan, the UN PKO was required to protect civilians, and under circumstances where the use of weapons was vital for this purpose, the Japanese government chose to withdraw the SDFs. The opposition parties criticized the government’s decision when the SDFs were sent to South Sudan, but a barrage of criticism stopped once the SDFs were withdrew. There seemed to be no plans to discuss Japan’s ideal cooperation with the UN PKOs, and to advance Japan’s contribution to the next level.

Nonetheless, in some cases, Japanese participation in UN PKOs produced tangible outcomes. Cooperation was established between ODA projects promoted by Japan and the engineering unit of the SDFs participating in UN PKOs in Haiti in the Caribbean Sea and South Sudan in Africa. This endeavor called “All-Japan Coordination” lies in the point that Japan’s strengths can be combined to produce better results. On the other hand, it was pointed out that involvement of the SDFs, dispatched as a member of the UN PKO, in the “All-Japan Coordination,” whose purpose was to better serve Japan’s national interests, had problems. Moreover, as shown by the case in South Sudan, a weakness became apparent that the cooperation would collapse if the local security situation were to worsen because Japanese nationals who carry out Japan’s ODA projects will be forced to evacuate from the country.

Because Japan is not a member of a regional organization that has promoted role-sharing in the UN PKOs, other means to contribute to peace operations has been limited. In Asia, with regard to peace in Aceh in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, and Mindanao in the southern Philippines, organizations other than the UN assumed the tasks such as ceasefire monitoring, which UN PKOs had accepted elsewhere in the past. While other countries dispatched troops to the International Monitoring Team in the Mindanao peace process, the Japanese government sent civilian staff of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Under the Act on International Peace Cooperation revised in 2016 by the Legislation for Peace and Security, the dispatch of the SDFs for peace operations not under the UN’s initiative is also permitted. It is unlikely that the UN PKOs will be carried out in the Asia-Pacific region. Even if peace operations are carried out, they will be under the initiative of organizations other than the UN as we have seen in Aceh and Mindanao. Causes of conflict are smoldering in the deep south of Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, etc. Islamic extremists are becoming active in countries including Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the situation is not very optimistic. It is not sure in what kind of framework peace operations will be carried out, but the feasibility of Japan’s leading role in frameworks other than the UN is worth exploring.

International Peace Cooperation by Japan Should Be Reconsidered.

Many challenges will continue to arise. It can be said that the dispatch of SDF troops to the UN PKOs has reached a breaking point in the short term. Needless to say, in the medium term, UN PKOs with the mandate of state-building may be dispatched to Syria and Mali after conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are resolved. However, to meet current requirements of UN PKOs, it is necessary to drastically change the consensus regarding overseas operations by the SDFs through constitutional changes based on national consensus. Does the Japanese government dare to permit the SDF in a UN PKO to use force to protect civilians beyond self-defense? Despite the law has been revised, it is quite unlikely that the government will move to this direction without public understanding and support.

Of course, it is not always necessary to fill the gap between requirements on the ground and public recognition concerning the way of involvement in protecting civilians and/or UN PKOs in general. However, ironically, many Japanese people support the status quo although they do not know the current status of UN PKOs. Japan has reached a stage to consider how to contribute to UN PKOs as a means to maintaining the global order, based on the accurate understanding of the current situation surrounding the UN PKOs.

Why does Japan dispatch the SDFs to participate in UN PKOs? Aside from answering this simple question which the Japanese people have, let’s move on to the next stage to discuss Japan’s ideal way for international peace cooperation, which contributes to the stability of the international community.

Yuji Uesugi
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

Born in 1970. Graduated from International Christian University. Completed a master’s course at George Mason University. Completed a doctoral course at the University of Kent (Ph.D.). Before assuming the current post, he was an Associate Professor at Hiroshima University. Currently, he is also a Vice President of Okinawa Peace Assistance Center, and has written Introduction to Conflict Resolution, All-Japan toward the World Peace, and Changing UN PKO and Conflict Resolution, etc.