Editorial: Providing ammunition to peacekeeping forces

Is the aim to create a done deal?

Through the United Nations, the government has provided 10,000 rounds of rifle ammunition from Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force to South Korean troops engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO) in South Sudan. The government described it as “an exceptional measure” that was taken in light of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in South Sudan.

The South Korean Army has said it plans to return the ammunition once additional supplies are received from home. Nevertheless, this is the first time Japan has provided rifle ammunition to the United Nations or another country. This action is at variance with the Three Principles on Arm Exports and in conflict with the views of past administrations on PKO.

The Abe administration has been working to make changes to the Three Principles on Arm Exports for some time. The government seems to be using this latest measure as a breakthrough in order to accumulate a record of exceptions, thereby making changes to the principles a done deal. If the government is in fact trying to ease the restrictions on the export of weapons without a national consensus and with no debate on the issue, it is unacceptable.

The ambiguity of the Law Concerning Cooperation for United Nations Peace-keeping Operations and Other Operations has been pointed out for some time. Although Article 25 provides for cooperation on supplies, it does not stipulate whether or not ammunition or weapons are included. As a result, some people have voiced concern that loopholes can be created by interpreting the law broadly.

This concern is now becoming reality.

Previous administrations have not operated on the assumption that they could provide weapons or ammunition under the provisions of the law, and Japan has repeatedly declined such requests, even when they came from the United Nations. In this case, the government substantially changed its interpretation of the law, stating that the provision of weapons or ammunition was permissible when it was an urgent, humanitarian matter.

But, with regard to the essential question of urgency as well, the government’s view differed from that of South Korea, which said that the ammunition was needed as a reserve stockpile. It is unclear how pressing the matter was and whether or not the ammunition was truly needed.

We are also concerned that such a momentous decision was made hastily by the four-member National Security Council (NSC), which includes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the day after the request from the U.N. was received.

In the past, when substantial changes to the government’s position were made, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau carefully debated the matter.

But in this case the NSC was not legally required to prepare minutes of its meeting, and it is difficult to verify just what went on. Many people must feel something is wrong when an important decision is made hastily behind closed doors out of the public eye.

There’s no doubt that the “active pacifism” touted by Prime Minister Abe underlies the government’s change of stance.

The national security strategy approved by a cabinet resolution this month also specified a review of the Three Principles on Arm Exports. The government has stressed the importance of developing the defense industry, including making the export of defense-related equipment a growth strategy.

If this change in policy on the export of weapons and this expansion of PKO proceeds, a conflict with Article 9 of the Constitution may result.

We must not forget that the security situation in South Sudan is extremely dangerous. Since the middle of this month, there have been hostilities in some areas and frequent conflicts between tribes throughout the country. There is growing concern about the outbreak of civil war.

If the security situation deteriorates further, it may no longer fulfill one of the Five Principles for Participation in Peacekeeping Operations, which states that “a cease-fire must be in place.”

In order to ensure that the Self-Defense Forces do not face unexpected problems, the government must not avoid debate on pulling out.

(Originally published on December 30, 2013)