Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Peacekeeping and Disaster Relief: Time to Rethink Japan’s International Cooperation from the Basics
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

August 22, 2017
It has been 30 years since Japan first dispatched its Japan Disaster Relief (JDR) team for natural and man-made disasters in the world. It has been 25 years since the International Peace Cooperation Act (the Act on Cooperation with United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations) was enacted and the Japan Self-Defense Forces started participating in peacekeeping operations. In this double milestone year, Japan’s international cooperation is coming to a turning point.

With the enactment of the International Peace Cooperation Act in 1992, a demarcation line was drawn between UN Peacekeeping Operations for disasters caused by conflicts, and Japan Disaster Relief for other disasters. Further, it was made possible for Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) personnel to join JDR teams as necessary in case of large-scale disasters.

JDR, legislated in 1987, has been responding to growing needs in recent years, given the frequent occurrence of world-scale disasters and the emergence of new types of disasters such as infectious diseases. The Infections Disease Response Team, inaugurated in 2015, was deployed shortly thereafter for the yellow fever outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time of the great earthquake in Nepal in 2015, which claimed nearly 9,000 lives, some 260 personnel were dispatched, including rescue and medical teams and a JSDF medical relief team.

This year, the JDR teams have been dispatched following the collapse of the garbage dump in Sri Lanka and for the forest fire in Chile. Thus JDR has been involved in a variety of activities.

“Discipline, morale and high disaster-response capacity as well as the willingness to act on the same eye level as the local people. These are the reasons why the JDR teams are well received”, says Toshihide Kawasaki, Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who coordinates the dispatching of JDR teams.

Exactly the same assessment applies to the JSDF personnel, whose participation in peacekeeping operations started 25 years ago. Ironically, though, since the withdrawal last May of the JSDF troops from the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), there have been no JSDF troops dispatched for UN peacekeeping operations. This puts Japan considerably behind China, which, like Japan, first participated in the peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, but now deploys 2,500 troops for peacekeeping worldwide.

One reason for this is the broadening evolution of peacekeeping. When Japan first participated in Cambodia, it was “first-generation” peacekeeping. Today, it is already “fourth-generation”, of which peacebuilding is the main component and protection of civilians is of increasing importance. This means that there are in fact fewer and fewer cases of peacekeeping that are compatible with Japan’s self-proclaimed five basic principles setting forth the conditions for participation in the UN Peacekeeping Forces.

However, if we look at the realities of conflicts and disasters in the world, it is clear that there is a heightening need for countries to cooperate and act in concert, despite the tide of assertive self-interest. Emergency Relief Coordinator Kawasaki testifies to the increasing importance of on-site international coordination in international emergency relief. As disasters increase, there arise more and more cases where relief teams arbitrarily enter the site before preparations are made to receive them, or groups and individuals without adequate relief capability rush to descend on the site.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are actively working on the standardization and evaluation of systems and capacities, the guidelines for nurturing common perceptions and the introduction of certification systems. Japan, for its part, should spare no effort to study and prepare for these proposals in order to respond to them positively.

Regional meetings are becoming increasingly important. Japan, with more knowledge and expertise on disasters than others, is well placed to exert greater leadership.

At the same time, we need to resolve the problem of zero JSDF troops deployed for peacekeeping. Not that we must rush to send JSDF troops regardless of circumstances. Contribution to peacekeeping is not limited to JSDF troops; Japanese police were dispatched for the peacekeeping operations in Cambodia. But, compared to the time of Cambodia, there is much less animation in the public mood. The lackadaisical approach of “Leave it to the JSDF to decide.” seems to have caused the decline of the people’s sense of ownership on international cooperation through peacekeeping. Can we allow the Five Principles to continue to keep Japan “a lap behind” in the international arena? More fundamentally, to what end does Japan engage in international cooperation?

It is time to rethink these questions on international cooperation from the basics.

Keiko Chino is a freelance journalist, Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun. This has been adapted from the article originally appearing in the Shisen (Perspective) column of Sankei Shimbun of July 31, 2017.)
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野境子 / ジャーナリスト

2017年 8月 22日












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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Peacekeeping and Disaster Relief: Time to Rethink Japan’s International Cooperation from the Basics