The Japanese government has decided to withdraw the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) from U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO) in South Sudan, the entire force will be withdrawn from the country presumably by the end of May. The GSDF has been participating in infrastructure-building projects around the South Sudanese capital, Juba, since 2012 as part of the UN peacekeeping force.
Minister Shinzo Abe explains, “As South Sudan’s nation-building reaches a new stage, I assessed that the Self-Defense Force’s construction and maintenance work in Juba has reached an appropriate point to end.” He later adds, “[The GSDF mission] can mark a certain measure of completion for facility construction and improvement in Juba.” Abe also emphasizes that Japan will keep supporting South Sudan by sending personnel to the headquarters in Juba for U.N. peacekeeping operations. Despite the official explanation, another plausible reason for the withdrawal is Japan’s domestic pressure. PM Abe vowed that he would resign if any troops were killed. Due to what the Democratic Party calls “a low standard of public safety” in South Sudan, the troops’ families strongly oppose the dispatch of the GSDF.
Since July 2016 the security situation has been increasingly dangerous because an armed conflict broke out in South Sudan between supporters of the country’s president and its then-vice president. At least 270 people including ordinary citizens have been killed in the capital city, Juba.
The GSDF was dispatched in January 2012, marking a record for the longest involvement in U.N. peacekeeping activities by a GSDF engineering unit. About 210 kilometers of road were repaired and roughly 500,000 square meters of land were turned into usable lots. The unit has also built facilities in 94 locations.
The Japanese government passed a defense reform bill in September 2015 that went into effect in the spring of 2016. This bill intends to make Japan a more responsible stakeholder through actively participating in overseas missions. However, Japan’s withdrawal of the GSDF at this time presents an opposite message to other countries that Japan does not want to take the risk and work with others. The government insists that the troop withdrawal was not because of fear. but due to the situation on the ground. So far, the troop has not been physically withdrawn yet. We can only hope that the Japanese government will be willing to dispatch more personnel to coordinate with others countries on humanitarian assistance in South Sudan.
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