2022 marks the 30th anniversary of Japan’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations (hereinafter referred to as peacekeeping operations). On March 20, 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Cambodia. One of the important agendas was to pay homage to the Japanese who died in the United Nations peacekeeping operation (UNCambodia) in Cambodia that year. Participating in UN peacekeeping operations is a platform and testing ground for Japan, a defeated country in World War II, to plan to exert its “big power influence” after the Cold War. It is also the first attempt for Japan’s defense forces to officially appear on the international stage.
The development of Japan’s PKO Act
The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s and the outbreak of the Gulf War, the two landmark events and the global turmoil they caused, gave Japan a special opportunity – Japan’s “defense forces” finally found an excuse to go abroad.
In June 1992, the cabinet of Kiichi Miyazawa withstood the heavy pressure of domestic and foreign public opinion and passed the “United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Cooperation Act” (referred to as the PKO Act) in Congress. This law is the basis for Japan to send the Self-Defense Forces to participate in the international peacekeeping operations of the United Nations. Soon after the law was passed, Japan dispatched personnel overseas to participate in United Nations peacekeeping activities: in September 1992, three election monitors were sent to participate in the “Second United Nations Monitoring Mission in Angola”; in the same month, the first batch of 600 Self-Defense Forces was dispatched The members participated in the “United Nations Provisional Administration of Cambodia” peacekeeping operation, which lasted from September 1992 to September 1993. Japan sent a total of 1,200 members of the Self-Defense Forces to participate in this operation in one year.
The PKO Act has three main connotations: the first category is to send personnel to actively participate in UN peacekeeping operations, the second category is to participate in international humanitarian relief operations organized by the United Nations, and the third category is to participate in election monitoring operations in disputed areas organized by the United Nations.
Representative examples of the first type of operations that Japan participated in include dispatching members of the Self-Defense Forces to Cambodia, Mozambique, the Golan Heights, East Timor, Sudan, Haiti, South Sudan and other countries and regions, as well as dispatching police officers to Cambodia and East Timor; the second type of operations Representative cases include dispatching members of the Self-Defense Forces to Rwanda, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries to participate in international humanitarian relief activities; representative cases of the third type of operations include sending members of the Self-Defense Forces to Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, Kosovo, Congo (DRC), Nepal and other countries. Sudan and other disputed countries and regions sent personnel to participate in the United Nations election monitoring activities in disputed areas. In addition, as a supporting measure to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, Japan often provides various material assistance to relevant UN agencies such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.
Reasons for Japan’s Active Participation in Peacekeeping
In the 30 years since Japan began participating in UN peacekeeping operations in 1992, there have been frequent cabinet changes and changes in the international situation, but Japan’s intention to deepen and expand its participation in UN peacekeeping operations has remained unchanged.
Japan’s active participation in UN peacekeeping operations is first and foremost to achieve a “gorgeous turn” and reverse its humiliation as a defeated country. The label of a defeated country in World War II has been worn by Japan until now, and to completely wash away this humiliation has become the goal of successive Japanese cabinets after the war. To wash away the humiliation of a defeated country, there are only two paths: one is to change the mind, completely repent of the history of aggression and put it into practice; The attitude of a great power” sent troops overseas and returned to the international stage. The first path seems a bit difficult for Japan; the second path is realistic and has the possibility of “working”.
The second is the result of the domestic political atmosphere and environment in Japan. In the 30 years since 1992, Japanese politics has experienced countless ups and downs, various political parties have been divided and combined, and various political trends have risen and fallen, but the pursuit of promoting Japan to become a political and military power has been consistent. In the 22 years since the beginning of the 21st century, Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe are the two most representative prime ministers in Japanese politics, and they are also the most obvious in encouraging Japan to participate in UN peacekeeping operations.
Once again, it is driven by the basic axis of Japan’s diplomacy – the Japan-US alliance. These 30 years are exactly 30 years with the end of the Cold War as the background, that is, the post-Cold War era. Although the bipolar confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union no longer exists, the Japan-US alliance, a product of the Cold War and one of the important features of the Cold War era, has been stubbornly preserved, and has been continuously consolidated and strengthened. After the end of the Cold War, various alliances in the world have two options: strengthening and weakening. The alliance between Japan and the United States can be consolidated and strengthened, naturally because both sides have their own needs. For Japan, this is a strategic means for Japan to gradually move towards “strategic independence” by “relying on the United States to seek strength” and “relying on the United States to seek momentum”; while the United States must pay close attention to Japan as its strategic strength gradually declines. Asia Pacific Strategic Interest Services. Japan has grasped the psychology of the United States, and took advantage of the opportunity of the United States to strengthen its alliance to actively participate in the United Nations peacekeeping operations, so as to expand Japan’s strategic influence.
In March 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Cambodia. During this period, he paid homage to the Japanese who died in the UN Cambodian operation.
Finally, it is out of Japan’s need to take the initiative to adapt to changes in the international situation. Facing the complicated world after the Cold War, where should Japan go is not only a major strategic issue 30 years ago, but also a major strategic issue that Japan needs to think deeply about. How to demonstrate one’s “sense of existence” in the rapidly changing international situation and exert “international influence” that matches one’s own economic strength is a severe political torture to the successive Japanese cabinets. Active participation in UN peacekeeping operations is their convenient “entry point”. After the end of the Cold War, the role of the United Nations has increased, and the UN Security Council has exerted an authoritative influence in maintaining world peace. As a member of the United Nations, Japan has “high expectations” for enhancing the role of the United Nations, especially in reforming the function and structure of the UN Security Council. Actively “promoting the country”, and actively striving for “normalization”. Actively participating in UN peacekeeping operations can not only accumulate contributions to the UN, but also win more sympathy and support for the reform of the UN Security Council.
The Paradox of Actual Purpose and Superficial Pursuit
On the surface, Japan’s active participation in UN peacekeeping operations is to contribute to world peace, but its essential purpose is clearly not this. These actions of Japan have always faced strong doubts and opposition from anti-war public opinion and people of insight in the country. Sending the Self-Defense Forces overseas in the name of participating in peacekeeping is inconsistent with the image of a “peaceful country” that Japan has always advertised after the war. In recent years, especially during Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, Japan has accelerated the pace of “strengthening the military and expanding its arms”, and even has the argument of changing the Self-Defense Forces to the “National Defense Forces”. If Japan makes major fundamental adjustments in the field of security and defense (such as amending the pacifist constitution), there will be a situation where the “name” is to participate in UN peacekeeping, and the “actual” is to send the Self-Defense Forces overseas to perform “military missions”. Since it is essentially a “military mission”, the members of the Self-Defense Forces who perform “military tasks” have to carry weapons, thus there is a danger of being involved in various military conflicts in conflicting countries and regions. This danger naturally includes the members of the Self-Defense Forces. death in other countries.
International public opinion also has doubts about the real purpose of Japan’s participation in peacekeeping. Japan believes that it cannot permanently wear the hat of a defeated country, and should promote the revision and deletion of the “enemy clause” in the UN Charter in a timely manner to restore Japan’s “normal” status in the international community. However, based on what Japan has done so far, it can be inferred that it will be difficult for Japan to make a complete change in repenting its history of aggression for a long time to come. Therefore, Japan’s attempt to “whitewash history” by participating in peacekeeping has It will be suspected by the international community, which will lead to strong criticism and opposition from international public opinion.
Junichiro Koizumi (right) and Shinzo Abe (left) were the most active in agitating for Japan’s participation in UN peacekeeping.
In terms of Japan’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations, the Japan-US alliance has actually served as a double-edged sword. The Japan-US alliance has given Japan the convenience to actively participate in peacekeeping operations, enabling Japan to expand the scope of its participation in UN peacekeeping operations in the name of “sharing the burden for the United States”, so as to expand its international influence and demonstrate Japan’s sense of international presence. Convenience has a certain limit, that is, it must meet the strategic needs of the United States as the basic precondition, and its participation cannot go beyond the strategic scope of the United States, let alone act freely without the United States. If Japan does not cooperate with the United States, or acts against the United States, it will eventually lead to the interruption or failure of Japan’s peacekeeping operations. For example, in May 2017, Japan hastily withdrew from the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, which it had participated in since 2012. The author believes that an important reason is that in December 2016, the United States wanted to pass a resolution on sanctions against South Sudan at the UN Security Council. However, Japan, an ally of the United States and a non-permanent member of the Security Council, rarely did not cooperate with the United States, but abstained in the vote, resulting in the failure of the resolution to pass, much to the chagrin of the United States. Three months later, in March 2017, the Abe cabinet ordered the withdrawal of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) stationed in South Sudan to perform peacekeeping missions, and in May of the same year, the Self-Defense Forces were completely withdrawn from the country. The biggest support for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to go abroad to perform peacekeeping missions is the military umbrella provided by the United States (including providing various intelligence information). Dangerous, which led to a crisis in the Abe cabinet, so the Abe cabinet quickly ordered the withdrawal of the peacekeepers and Self-Defense Forces in South Sudan. This is a classic case of the rift in the Japan-US alliance, and it also shows that the Japan-US alliance is also a shackle for Japan to expand its international influence.
There are three possibilities for Japan’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations in the future, including expanding participation, maintaining the status quo, and reducing participation. Japan will make different choices based on changes in the situation and analysis of advantages and disadvantages. The author believes that expanding participation is undoubtedly in line with Japan’s long-term pursuit. However, in view of the growing public opinion in Japan that peacekeepers are concerned about the involvement of peacekeepers in armed conflicts in the places where they are stationed, for example, they believe that relaxing the restrictions on the carrying of weapons by participating peacekeepers may cause them to be involved in armed conflicts and even lose their lives. , Japan will carefully judge the reaction of domestic and foreign public opinion, and dare not rashly continue to expand or accelerate the scope and pace of participation in UN peacekeeping operations. And if the domestic and international situation is unfavorable for Japan, such as the belief that the investment in participating in peacekeeping operations is not proportional to the return, even if it participates in peacekeeping operations on a large scale, it will not receive a positive response and support from the international community, and it will not give the crucial Security Council “involvement”. If the “normal” wins “extra points”, then the possibility of Japan gradually reducing or even canceling or withdrawing from its participation in UN peacekeeping operations cannot be ruled out.