Current Issues Surrounding UN
Peace-keeping Operations and
Japanese Perspective

January 1997


This paper discusses the United Nations Peace-keeping Operations (PKO) and humanitarian assistance operations from a Japanese perspective. In particular, the involvement of Japan's Self-Defense Forces will be dealt with in detail. The paper consists of three parts: I. Background and Legal Framework, II. Japan's Humanitarian Assistance Activities and Lessons Learned, III. Japan's PKO Activities and Issues to be Addressed.

I. Background and Legal Framework

The United Nations Peace-keeping Operations have evolved during the past four decades to assume a central role in maintaining peace in the international community. This trend has been reinforced since the end of the Cold War, where the Security Council, in the absence of the East-West conflict, has assumed greater responsibility in matters related to international security.

Against this background, Japan, aspiring to be a more responsible member of the international community, has come to recognize the need to contribute more actively, within its constitutional framework, to the peace-keeping operations of the United Nations. In addition to its financial contribution to the United Nations peace-keeping operations, Japan gradually began to participate in new areas of peace-keeping operations which were of a civilian nature (namely, election observers), where no domestic constitutional controversy would arise. The Constitution of Japan, enacted in 1947, declares in Article 9 that "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes"; that "in order to accomplish [this] aim, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained"; and that "the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." Some interpreted this article as prohibiting the overseas dispatch of its Self-Defense Forces for whatever purpose or for whatever activity because Japan cannot be involved directly in any armed conflict. Such views, harbored by many for decades since World War II, led to the formation of an inward-looking, "don't want to be involved" mentality.

The Gulf Crisis, however, awakened the Japanese people out of a psychological cocoon that had protected them from the world at large throughout the postwar years. They had to face harsh criticism from around the world that Japan had been too slow in offering too little assistance to the multinational struggle against Iraq's aggression against its neighbor. Despite Japan's substantial financial contribution amounting to $13 billion, raised through new taxes, the international community's lack of appreciation bewildered the Japanese people. This stinging criticism brought home to their minds the importance of sharing the burden with blood, sweat and tears, and not just with money, as a responsible member of the international community striving for the common cause of maintaining peace with justice.

Notwithstanding these changing sentiments in the country, Japan still lacked the instrument with which to implement a policy whereby the Self-Defense Forces could be dispatched abroad to participate in international peace efforts.

The Japanese Government took the initiative in 1990 to create a legal framework enabling Japan to participate in the international community's peace-keeping efforts, including participation in such operations as the multinational forces deployed at the time of the Gulf Crisis. This draft legislation became the focus of intense debate. Unfortunately, it failed to gain enough support in the Diet, and even rekindled the old debate on the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces themselves, let alone dispatching them overseas. The central issue was whether members of the Self-Defense Forces could participate, even only in the capacity of logistic support, in activities of a multinational force not strictly under UN command. A positive product of the aborted draft legislation was that through the debate more Japanese people began to appreciate the need for a new legal framework to enable Japan to participate in United Nations Peace-keeping Operations if Japan were to discharge its international responsibilities. The very fact that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations Peace-keeping Operations in 1988 in recognition of its contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security made the Japanese people realize how highly the world appreciated UN peace-keeping operations.

In September 1991, the Japanese Government introduced new draft legislation that would permit the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to peace-keeping operations under UN command. Given the controversial nature of the issue in Japan's domestic politics, however, a major compromise was necessary to pass the bill through the Diet. The final product was the Law Concerning Cooperation for United Nations Peace-keeping Operations and Other Operations ("the International Peace Cooperation Law"), which empowers the Government to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to participate in the logistical aspects of peace-keeping operations only. The Law expressly states that those provisions on the dispatch of a contingent to peace-keeping activities going beyond logistical nature are to be "frozen" until a new legislation is enacted.

Thus the law as it now stands is quite restrictive in scope, and it stipulates five conditions that must be satisfied before a Japanese contingent may be dispatched.

The five conditions are:

(1) a cease-fire must be in place;
(2) the parties to the conflict must have given their consent to the operation;
(3) the activities must be conducted in a strictly impartial manner;
(4) participation may be suspended or terminated if any of the"above conditions ceases to be satisfied; and
(5) use of weapons shall be limited to the minimum necessary to protect life or person of the personnel.

Nonetheless, the International Peace Cooperation Law established for the first time in the postwar history of Japan a legal framework enabling it to participate in UN peace-keeping operations and international humanitarian relief activities. Since its enactment in 1992, Japan has sent its personnel to UN peace-keeping operations in Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador and the Golan Heights.

II. Humanitarian Assistance Activities and Lessons Learned

Within the framework of the International Peace Cooperation Law, in September 1994, Japan sent about 400 members of the Self-Defense Forces to Goma, Zaire, and Nairobi, Kenya, in order to alleviate the tragic plight of Rwandan refugees in response to an appeal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They engaged in humanitarian assistance in such areas as medical services, sanitation, water supply and airlifts for a period of three months. As this was the first dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to an international humanitarian operation, several survey teams were sent both at political and official levels to carefully assess the situation, and the decision on the operation was made quickly because of the urgent need for such assistance.

Though serving under uncertain circumstances, the Self-Defense Forces accomplished their mission without any serious incidents. Their contribution was greatly appreciated both by the international community and refugees themselves.

From its experience in Goma Japan learned three important lessons. First, there were always conflicting views concerning the situation of the refugees itself and its future outlook, and it was virtually impossible to grasp fully their actual situation. We must, therefore, bear in mind that the Government may face great difficulty in making a decision from time to time where high risks, both physical and political, seem to exist.

Second, in order to secure the success of the operation it was essential to conclude beforehand appropriate agreements with the governments of Zaire and Kenya on the status of our forces in those two countries. Although Japan's International Peace Cooperation Law does not require a status of forces agreement with the governments concerned, such an agreement is in fact quite essential to ensure an acceptable environment for the forces engaged in potentially dangerous operations. Indeed, such an agreement is a fundamental political requirement as well.

Third, a cooperative relationship with the local authorities was the surest way to ensure a favorable environment for smoothly conducting the operations. This is especially true when the local area, where humanitarian assistance is being conducted, is directly affected by the conflict. In the case of Zaire, Goma and North Kibu Province had to cope with the influx of close to one million Rwandan refugees. Ever since the beginning of the crisis, the area had been beset with all kinds of problems, from food and water shortage to environmental degradation resulting from the cutting of wood by the refugees. The area was also threatened by a possible volcanic eruption. Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Japanese Government did their utmost to help the local authorities cope with those problems by providing medical assistance, setting up a medical unit in the hospital in Goma, rehabilitating the city's damaged sewage system, and sending seismology experts to the area. In addition, the Japanese presence in Goma at that time enhanced the sense of security among the NGOs participating in humanitarian activities on the ground as well as the people of Zaire. The constructive relationship with the local population and authorities, as a result of the Self-Defense Forces' humanitarian efforts, contributed greatly to the success of the operation.

III. Japan's PKO Activities and Issues to be Addressed

The following chart is the chronology of Japan's participation in United Nations Peace-keeping Operations and in international humanitarian assistance activities.

1990-1991 The Gulf Crisis
1990 Nov. Draft Legislation on Peace Cooperation with the United Nations was withdrawn from the Diet.
1992 Aug. International Peace Cooperation Law was enacted.
1992 Sep.-Oct. United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM II)
1992 Sep.-1993 Sep. United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)
1993 May-1995 Jan. United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ)
1994 Mar.-Apr. United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL)
1994 Sep.-Dec. Self-Defense Forces dispatched to Zaire to conduct humanitarian assistance activities for the Rwandan refugees.
1996 Jan.- United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)

In total around 1,900 personnel from the Self-Defense Forces have participated in peace-keeping operations and humanitarian assistance activities since the International Peace Cooperation Law was enacted in August 1992. The Japanese Government has learned many lessons through this experience. Some are unique to Japan, some are more universal.

Here are the issues which demand further study regarding peace-keeping operations and humanitarian assistance operations.

(1) Strict examination of peace-keeping operations

Prior to the deployment of a peace-keeping operation, a serious study must be conducted to secure its effectiveness. This should include a close examination of the need for UN involvement and a detailed mandate of the operation to be launched, with clear stipulations as to its duration and scale. In case of conflicts which are essentially internal in nature, the principle of non-intervention should always be borne in mind, and it should be carefully examined to what extent the United Nations is to be involved in such conflicts. In addition, ongoing peace-keeping operations must be reviewed regularly. It is important to be able to adjust the actual operations as well as the mandates flexibly, when required, so as to cope with fluid situations.

(2) Strengthening of the PKO system

In order to improve effectiveness of peace-keeping operations, it is necessary to strengthen the present PKO system. Among the areas to be strengthened are the following: mediating functions of the Secretary-General's Special Representative; capabilities for the dissemination of information to the people of host countries; training of personnel; and support systems for the safety and health of personnel. Despite the financial constraints of the United Nations, it is also necessary to strengthen the Department of Peace-keeping Operations of the UN Secretariat so that it can carry out more complicated missions.

(3) Safety of personnel

The responsibility for the safety of the dispatched personnel rests mainly with host countries and the United Nations. However, in cases where neither the host countries nor the UN can take effective measures, troop-contributing countries should be authorized to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of their personnel. Although some countries are of the view that it is up to the United Nations to take these measures, Japan's position is that the governments of troop-contributing countries bear the final responsibility for the safety of their personnel.

Before determining the mandate and the length of deployment of any peace-keeping operation, the Security Council should, in its deliberations, consider thoroughly the safety of peace-keepers. The UN Secretariat should likewise closely follow the safety situation of the personnel engaged in each operation and report its assessment regularly to the Secretary-General.

In this regard, the adoption of the Convention on the Safety of the UN and Associated Personnel is highly commended because it provides a legal framework to ensure the safety of PKO personnel. Japan was an active participant in the deliberations on that Convention, and indeed became a party to it in June 1995, the second UN Member State to do so after Denmark. Japan urges other member countries to expedite their domestic procedures to become parties to the Convention so that it could go into force soon. On the other hand, it is regrettable that there should be cases in which the provisions of the Convention are not always applicable to the personnel engaged in humanitarian assistance operations. It is advisable, therefore, that the Convention be applied with enough flexibility to ensure protection for such personnel as well.

Programs for crisis prevention are also necessary. The following measures, for example, should be taken: conducting public relations campaigns through radio broadcasting and other media in order to increase local public awareness as to the roles of peace-keeping operations; strengthening budgetary and personnel resources at the UN office of the coordinator for safety; establishment of a consultation mechanism between the UN and host countries; and prompt supply of information from the authorities of the host countries.

In this connection, Japan proposed a project which is aimed at improving the safety of UN Volunteers (UNV), who work as peace-keepers; it has contributed US$500,000 to this project.

We cannot overemphasize the issue of safety not only as vital for the personnel themselves but also as having a major bearing on the political will of the participating countries.

(4) Consultations between the Security Council and troop- and finance-contributing countries

The Security Council should take into consideration during its deliberations on peace-keeping operations such issues as the shortage of both human and financial resources and the safety of personnel in order to render peace-keeping operations more successful. This requires that consultations be held between members of the Security Council and troop-contributing countries as well as other countries concerned that are making financial contributions to peace-keeping operations. Japan appreciates the statements made by the Security Council president in March 1996, which confirmed that members of the Security Council should consult with major contributing countries.

(5) Command and Control

The Secretary-General's report on command and control issued in November 1994 identified three levels of command in UN peace-keeping operations. Japan welcomes the elaboration of the issue and agrees to the view that the authority of the UN Force Commander is based on the concept of "operational control," while troop-contributing countries maintain the right of command over their respective participants.

(6) Finance

Funds are required most urgently at the initial stage of an operation when quick procurement of equipment and their transportation are essential. In order to ensure that funds are available in a timely manner, it is important for instance that the PKO Reserve Fund, whose establishment Japan has proposed, be fully funded.

As part of the efforts to secure prompt payment of arrears, the payment system for PKO contributions should be improved (e.g., annualizing the budgeting). Most crucial are efforts by the countries themselves to pay their arrears. In addition, the PKO budget should be streamlined by improving the budget compilation manual, etc.

Since any enlargement of the PKO budget means a greater financial burden on UN Member States, an overall streamlining is required; i.e., a review of the budget of existing peace-keeping operations with long duration is particularly needed. Furthermore, procedures for the procurement of equipment and the employment of personnel should be made more transparent, and any irregularities be corrected.

The procedures for the reimbursement by the United Nations for expenses incurred in dispatching personnel need to be more clear and reimbursements should be expedited.

Japan's basic position on this issue is that financial contributions to the PKO budget by Member States should be determined according to the weight of their respective economies in the global economy, and that the permanent members of the Security Council have special responsibility to bear in financing peace-keeping operations.

(7) Training of personnel

Proper training is indispensable to ensure a uniform level of personnel quality. The effectiveness and cost of cooperation in training, including joint exercises, among troop-contributing countries should be carefully studied. At this stage, it would be useful, in addition to utilizing existing PKO training centers, to urge the establishment of training centers and to send UN training assistance teams to various countries. The UN peace-keeping training workshops held in Denmark, Argentina, India and Egypt were very useful and should be held regularly.

(8) Enhancement of Rapid Deployment Capabilities of the UN

The UN Standby Arrangements were established in 1994 as a measure to increase readiness for UN peace-keeping operations. The purpose of the Standby Arrangements is to have a precise understanding of the forces and other capabilities a Member State will have available at an agreed state of readiness, should it agree to contribute to a peace-keeping operation. As of 30 November 1996, 62 Member States have confirmed to provide their resources, involving a total of some 80,000 personnel. Although Japan supports the concept of the Standby Arrangements as a way to facilitate rapid deployment of peace-keeping forces, it is unable to join in this scheme under the present legal framework which necessitates thorough scrutiny of legal requirements including "Five Principles" before it decides to contribute its personnel to a peace-keeping operation.

The ideas of UN Rapidly Deployable Mission Headquarters (RDMHQ) and Multinational UN Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) are currently under discussion as a result of the setback of the UN Standby Arrangements in 1994, when the Rwandese crisis occurred and the response of the participating Member States to increase the strength of UNAMIR was extremely tardy. RDMHQ is composed of some 20 officers, both civilian and military, who will be dispatched to the mission area based on a Security Council resolution in order to initiate the first phase of an operation. The establishment of RDMHQ was agreed in September 1996 in the Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends of Rapid Deployment, and Japan expressed its support to this idea in the speech at the General Assembly by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in September 1996. Although some countries showed interest in sending their nationals to RDMHQ, Japan is not prepared to hold a position in the Headquarters at the moment.

On the initiative of SHIRBRIG, defense ministers of seven countries (Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Norway and Poland) signed an agreement in December 1996 to support the establishment of the Brigade. The idea is to revise the present Standby Arrangements with the view of shortening the length of time for deployment in its start-up phase as a realistic measure for rapid deployment. SHIRBRIG is conceived to be called for only in peace-keeping operations under Chapter VI with maximum deployment period of six months. SHIRBRIG is scheduled to start its operation substantially by January 1999.

(9) The UN peace-keeping operations and regional organizations

Given its limited capacity, the United Nations should promote cooperation with the regional organizations of which the countries concerned, seeking a political settlement, are members. However, as the capabilities and characteristics of each regional organization are different, the modality of such cooperation should be flexible.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which is a new forum for discussing security issues, has held various PKO Seminars since 1995. As for Japan, it held a seminar in February 1996 on the legal aspects of peace-keeping, to which experts from Asian countries, UN and relevant international organizations were invited.

(10) Comprehensive approach to peace-keeping operations

In the light of the successful conclusion of Cambodia (UNTAC) and Mozambique (ONUMOZ), it will be productive to pursue resolution of conflicts through a comprehensive approach which combines together political process for the restoration of peace, humanitarian assistance operations and reconstruction programs. Close consultations among the Security Council members, the troop-contributing countries, the aid agencies and the major donor countries are essential to make such comprehensive approach effective.

Such an approach is also required in the case of Rwandan refugees where a fundamental resolution of the problem will be impossible without national reconciliation and economic reconstruction.

(11) Relationship between humanitarian assistance operations and peace-keeping operations

Since the end of the Cold War, an increasing number of conflicts, arising from ethnic and religious rivalries, have tended to result in mass exodus of refugees. Their plight not only constitutes a humanitarian issue but also a threat to international peace undermining the stability of the region concerned. Consequently, international humanitarian assistance operations for refugees have become increasingly important in international affairs.

Peace-keeping operations can play a major role in these conflicts by fostering the political will for peace, maintaining cease-fire and peaceful environment for post-conflict nation-building in such areas as rehabilitation and reconstruction. Moreover, peace-keeping operations can play an important role in providing a deterrent protecting humanitarian assistance operations, offering logistical support and coordinating with various aid organizations. At the same time, there are many points concerning the relationship between peace-keeping operations and humanitarian assistance operations which require clarification including organizational management, responsibility sharing and policy coordination. The United Nations should conduct further study on these issues, bearing in mind the importance of maintaining impartiality of humanitarian operations.

As for the implementation of humanitarian assistance operations by military personnel, like the case of the Rwandan refugees, discussions should be continued in the United Nations on the possible application of PKO principles to such emergency situations as well. Furthermore, a framework for determining the legal status of personnel engaged in these operations and coordination among troop-contributing countries, international organizations and NGOs need also to be addressed.

(12) Preventive diplomacy

In order to substantiate the preventive diplomacy efforts by the United Nations, UN survey missions should be dispatched, and the available resources of the countries concerned and regional organizations should be fully utilized. The success of the preventive operation in Macedonia (UNPREDEP) has demonstrated the validity of preventive deployment; preventive diplomacy should thus continue to be pursued with careful consideration given to the specific nature of the case in question.

(13) Enhancement of peace-keeping capabilities in Africa

Given the recurring conflicts in Africa, in the Great Lakes Region in particular, several countries including United Kingdom and France are taking different initiatives to develop concrete measures for conflict prevention and peace-keeping in the region. The UN Secretary-General, in response to this movement, issued a report on this subject in November 1995, in which he proposed, among other items, an enhanced exchange of personnel between the UN and OAU. The ensuing proposal made by the United States to establish an African Crisis Response Force (ACRF) in the autumn of 1996 spurred discussions on this imperative issue. The basic idea of ACRF is a stand-by force with a strength of some five thousand personnel composed of officers of African nations. While some African states responded positively to this scheme, other countries, France in particular, showed skepticism toward the plan. Japan basically welcomes the initiatives taken by the countries concerned, but at the same time it encourages coordination among these different ideas, given the constraints of human and other resources.

In addition, in order to support these initiatives, Japan held meetings in October 1995 and September 1996 on conflict resolution and nation building in Africa. Japan's approach to African peace-keeping is summarized as follows:

  1. Assistance to African countries should be strictly made to enhance their capabilities for conflict prevention and peace-keeping; assistance should not be misused for military build-up.
  2. The idea of creating a depot for peace-keeping operations in Africa should be carefully studied to ensure that the supplies will not be diverted to other uses.
  3. It is essential to involve the United Nations as well as regional and sub-regional organizations such as OAU in order to maintain impartiality of assistance by Western countries in the area of peace-keeping.

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