Rumiko Seya, Secretary General of the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention

Last question

Do you think armed forces are needed to maintain peace? If so, in what situations? If not, why not?

Rumiko Seya

Rumiko Seya

Born in Gunma Prefecture in 1977. Graduated from Chuo University and received an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford in the UK. Specialist in post-conflict peacebuilding and reintegration of ex-combatants into society. In the past she held various positions in conflict areas, such as NGO staff (Rwanda), UN volunteer (Sierra Leone), Special Assistant to the Ambassador (Japanese Embassy, Afghanistan), and UN Peacekeeping Operations staff (Côte d'Ivoire). She became Secretary General of the JCCP in April 2007.

JCCP's website http://www.jccp.gr.jp/

Resolve conflict through discussion
Use depends on governments and leaders
Rescue victims of disaster

Those who responded that "Armed forces aren't needed" argue that disputes should be resolved through discussion, not power, and they say that armed forces themselves often become champions of war. On the other hand, supporters of the idea that "Armed forces are needed to maintain a peaceful society" accept that armed forces are important for "self-defense" in order to protect a nation and its people when discussion breaks down and an adversary threatens to attack. Otherwise, they say, armed forces are only needed to help save victims of war and disaster. In fact, many people suggested that a distinction should be made between two types of armed forces: one for waging war and one for contributing to peace.

This view can be problematic, though, since, depending on the situation, the same armed force might be "a force that protects peace" or "a force that destroys peace." For example, the United Nations peacekeeping force serves to maintain security and effect disarmament in conflict areas, but some peacekeepers have been accused of selling guns to anti-government forces and abusing refugee children. Armed forces, charged with protecting citizens, also sometimes pressure those whose presence is troublesome for a government, such as human rights activists or particular ethnic groups.

When armed forces are properly fulfilling their role, they can manage security problems that the police are unable to handle (as "April fish" in Tokyo pointed out) and they can play a vital part in preventing the deterioration of a conflict. On the other hand, if armed forces become destructive, they can produce terrible damage. What factors, then, make the difference?

UN peacekeepers on a disarmament mission in Sudan. (Photo by Rumiko Seya, February 2009)

There are about 30 countries in the world that have no armed force. Most of them are small nations that can't afford to maintain their own army and so are protected by other countries. Costa Rica, though, is different. About 60 years ago, Costa Rica abolished its armed force and announced that it would be a neutral and unarmed nation. It only retained an armed police force.

Central America had been a conflict-prone area, but Costa Rica has succeeded in preventing attacks by other countries through its decision not to field an armed force and has contributed to resolving conflicts in neighboring countries through diplomacy. The achievements of this nation have resulted in the Costa Rican president winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another example is Switzerland, a permanently neutral country which maintains an armed force based on conscription so it need not ask for assistance from other nations if it were attacked. Many defense measures are in place in the event of an emergency, such as distributing arms to every household.

In cases where people are under threat, armed forces may be needed to prevent the situation from deteriorating until conditions calm down. In Japan, as Miei Shimote of Sagotani Junior High School suggested, such dangers may be averted by the existence of the nation's Self Defense Force. On the other hand, it can't be said that every crisis should be handled through the use of armed forces.

Armed forces don't exist independently. Their role differs depending on the government or leader in control. (Maya Yoshioka, Reika Ishibashi, and Mai Ooue of Sagotani Junior High School) In regard to Japan's Self Defense Force, we must examine the political, economic, and cultural roles the nation plays in this changing world (Yasai in Chiba), then consider what function, if any, the Self Defense Force should follow (Sanae Hamamoto of Sagotani Junior High School). The lack of an army doesn't automatically bring peace (Shota Yamada of Sagotani Junior High School), but it doesn't necessarily follow that revising Article 9 would resolve Japan's diplomatic problems. The key lies in Japan's political ability to control its armed force.

With this last column, I would like to express my appreciation for the many responses I received over the past year. Thanks to the schools who have discussed my questions in class and the readers who have thought seriously about these issues, I have had the opportunity to consider many new ideas through your views. If my column offered some incentive to ponder issues occurring in our world today, I'll be very pleased.