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The United Nations peace-keeping cooperation law: a turning point for Japan?



The passage of legislation on 15 June 1992 enabling Japan to contribute to United Nations Peace-Keeping Operations (UNPKO) is a momentous development in Japan's post-war foreign policy and in its relations with the international community. Although the legislation is subject to a number of carefully defined qualifications (as discussed in section 3 below), it, nevertheless, allows for the overseas deployment of Japanese troops for the first time since the end of the Second World War. This fact has aroused the concerns of a number of Japan's regional neighbours; although it should be noted that the legislation itself is, in part, a response to pressure from the United States which desired Japan to play larger role in politico-strategic matters. It should be noted also that the UNPKO legislation represents a significant enhancement of Japan's commitment to the United Nations as a major focus of its foreign policy 1 .

1. Background: Japan and the United Nations

The UNPKO legislation, in fact, reflects a longstanding interest in the issue of Japanese involvement in United Nations peace-keeping

operations by successive Japanese governments 2 .

Japan's purpose in joining the United Nations

The key objective of Japan in joining the United Nations in 1956 was to enhance its national security. Although the United Nations, in the conditions of the Cold War, was unable to realise its role as an instrument for providing security to the international system, its potential in this area remained an important factor in Japanese calculations.

Past attempts to involve Japan's Self Defence Forces in UN peace-keeping operations

The issue of whether Japan's Self Defence Forces (SDF) should participate in UN peace-keeping operations, however, has remained a politically contentious issue since Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952.

. The basic problem is the differing interpretations of Article 9 (the "peace clause") of the 1947 Constitution by which "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

. In 1954 the House of Councillors (the upper house of the Diet) passed a resolution prohibiting the dispatch of the SDF overseas.

. In 1958 the Japanese Government declined an invitation from the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, for the participation of ten Japanese SDF officers in the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon.

. In 1961 in the course of a debate in the Diet on possible SDF co-operation with the United Nations, the Japanese Government developed the argument that the dispatch of the SDF for UN peace-keeping operations might not violate Article 9 of the Constitution where such operations were purely police actions for the maintenance of law and order and did not involve the use of force. The Government, however, was forced to withdraw its motion in the face of strong resistance from the opposition parties.

Japan's new activism in the United Nations in the 1980s

In the 1980s Japan began to play a more active role in the United Nations in line with its new status as a world economic power. This new activism involved proposals for the strengthening of the United Nations' peace and security functions 3 .

. In 1982 Japan suggested to the General Assembly that it establish a body of experts to examine ways in which the peacekeeping operations of the United Nations could be expanded. As part of this initiative a group of Japanese experts produced a report in 1983, at the request of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which argued for a broader and more positive role in peace-keeping operations for Japan.

. A few years later, in an address to the Third Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament in 1988, the then Japanese Prime Minister, Noboru Takeshita, proposed financial support for peace-keeping operations together with personnel to monitor elections and to assist with transportation, telecommunications and medical care, as part of his International Co-operation Initiative.

. In line with this proposal the Japanese Government sent teams of Japanese citizens to assist in the monitoring of United Nations sponsored elections in Namibia and Nicaragua in 1989 and 1990 respectively.

2. The United Nations Peacekeeping Co-operation Bill: Political Evolution

The Middle East Crisis 1990-91 as a catalyst

The crisis in the Middle East provoked by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 intensified the domestic debate on Japan's involvement with the United Nations peacekeeping operations. A major factor in stimulating this debate was the increasing pressure which the United States exerted on the Japanese Government to persuade it to make a meaningful contribution to the Western response against Iraq.

The First Attempt: "U.N. Peace Cooperation Bill" October 1990

In addition to the provision of US$4 billion to the operations against Iraq, the Japanese Government submitted a "U.N. Peace Cooperation Bill" to the Diet in October 1990 which would have allowed the SDF to participate in the UN peace-keeping operations as part of a so-called "U.N. Peace Cooperation Corps" 4 .

. It was agreed by all parties that this corps would not have any combat role and would confine its activities to such ancillary functions as, transport, communications, logistics, medical service, observation etc.

. Despite this agreement, however, the Government' s position on the Bill lacked coherence which reflected the hasty manner in which the legislation was drafted, without careful consideration of its contents. As a result Prime Minister Kaifu decided against putting the Bill to a vote and allowed it to lapse at the committee stage in November 1990. 5

The Second Attempt: "The United Nations Peace-Keeping Operations Bill" September 1991

That same month the Kaifu Government entered into negotiations with the opposition parties on a new bill 6 . Such negotiations are crucial given the governing party's (the LDP) lack of a majority in the House of Councillors.

. The negotiations were conducted during the first half of 1991 with the Government gaining the support of two small opposition parties, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Komeito (the "Clean Government Party") for its new bill, the "United Nations Peace-Keeping Operations Cooperation Bill" 7 .

. It nevertheless faced the implacable opposition of the two main opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ - formerly the Japanese Socialist Party) and the Japan Communist Party (JCP).

. At the same time the United States maintained its pressure on Japan to assume a larger interrnational role in association with the United States. In a speech in Tokyo in November 1991, for example, the Secretary of State, James Baker, criticised Japan for failing to go beyond "checkbook diplomacy" in meeting its responsibilities to the international system 8 .

. The bill was submitted to the Diet in September 1991 where it quickly fell victim to the political scandals which have bedevilled the government of Prime Minister Miyazawa. Although the Government succeeded in getting the Bill passed in the House of Representatives in early December, after having forced it through the House's relevant committee, it nevertheless abandoned further action on the Bill in return for the SDPJ dropping its demands that Prime Minister Miyazawa and his former aides testify under oath in Parliament to their dealings with the Recruit company. This political deal led to the collapse of the three-party alliance between the LDP, Komeito and the DSP. For its part the DSP joined the SDPJ and the JCP in opposing the legislation after the Miyazawa Government had rejected its amendment requiring the Diet's approval within six months of dispatching the SDF to participate in peace-keeping operations 9 .

The stimulus of the Cambodia peace agreement 1991

An important stimulus to the UNPKO legislation has been the peace agreement reached between the parties to the Cambodia conflict in late 1991 and the process of its implementation under United Nations auspices since then.

. Japan has played an important role in this process and in recognition of this fact a senior Japanese official, Yasushi Akashi, was appointed as the UN's Special Representative with general oversight of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).

. The United Nations has also looked to Japan to provide to provide peacekeeping forces for UNTAC. In May 1992, for example, Akashi held consultations with the Japanese Foreign Minister, Michio Watanabe, in which he welcomed the prospect of the deployment of Japanese military personnel with UNTAC 10 . In an interview with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan's leading financial newspaper) in mid June, furthermore, Akashi stated that UNTAC would request Japan to provide 75 civilian police officers, a 400-man military engineering unit and several military officers as ceasefire observers from 1 October 11 .

Debate on the Bill in the House of Councillors 1992

The bill was again introduced to the Diet in early 1992 for debate in the House of Councillors.

. The House of Councillors resumed debate on the bill on 28 April.

. On 29 May the LDP finally gained the agreement of Komeito and the DSP to a revised bill limiting participation to "non-combat" missions and increasing parliamentary control over SDF deployment overseas in support of peacekeeping operations 12 .

. After further acrimonious debate, including an SDPJ-JCP filibuster which forced the Upper House to sit through four consecutive all-night sessions, the bill finally passed through the House of Councillors on 9 June 1992 by 137 votes to 102 votes 13 .

. Once the special committee of the House of Representatives passed the bill on 11 June, it was then approved by the House of Representatives on 15 June by a margin of 312 votes (329 in favour and only 17 opposed). At the same time 141 members of the SDPJ and the United Social Democratic Party of Japan formally tendered their resignation to the Speaker in a final dramatic protest against the UNPKO legislation 14 .

3. The United Nations Peace-Keeping Cooperation Bill: Provisions 15

The UNPKO legislation, as the above section indicates, is the product of a number of difficult compromises. It reflects the attempt by the Miyazawa Government to balance competing external and domestic pressures: the need to accommodate the pressure from the United States to do more in the area of security, while seeking to allay the anxieties of regional neighbours at the prospects of a prominent military role for Japan; the need to assuage the desire of significant elements in the governing LDP for a more assertive role for Japan on the international stage, and at the same time trying to appease the implacable hostility of the parliamentary opposition (the SDPJ and the JCP) against any revision of the "peace" constitution; and all the while seeking to avoid alienating an electorate which is at best indifferent and at worst actively opposed to any enhancement of the role of the SDF (see page 7 below).

The purpose of the Bill is to establish a Plan for Peace Co-operation Activities (PCA) and to create a Peace Co-operation Corps (PCC) as both its instrument of implementation and as a mechanism to enable Japan to contribute to United Nations peace-keeping operations and to humanitarian international relief operations (Art.1).

Given its dual functions the PCC members will be seconded from both civilian and military agencies (SDF) for stipulated periods (Art. 12). The total number of personnel engaged in PCA is not to exceed 2,000, and the Government will itself determine the number of members assigned to each corps of the PCC (Art. 17).

In the event that such a PCC is deployed it will come under the command of the United Nations (Art. 3 (1); Art. 6(4)).

The implementation of PCA will not involve the threat or use of force, and the equipment for the implementation of UN peace-keeping activities will be limited to that deemed necessary by the UN Secretary-General (Arts 2 & 6). The PCA HQ in Japan will retain a cache of small arms and these will be distributed to PCC members in the field for their personal safety and only "in cases of particular necessity" (Art. 20). Further, small arms and weapons would be used only for "the purposes of legitimate self-defense and emergency evacuation" (Art. 21).

In line with its dual function PCA will include contributions to the following activities: establishment and monitoring of ceasefires; patrolling demilitarised zones; vetting weapons and weapons transfers; prisoner exchange; monitoring elections; advice on police administration and other administrative matters; provision of medical care, shelter, food and clothing to affected population; reconstruction and repair of damaged property; environmental rehabilitation etc. (Art. 3 (3)).

The overall control of the PCA will be in the hands of the Prime Minister who, for this purpose, is designated by the Bill as "the Chief Executive for Peace Cooperation" (Art. 5).

. The "Peace Cooperation Headquarters" will be located within the Prime Minister's office and it will concern itself with the preparation of the PCA implementation plan, the preparation and revision of the PCA operations procedures, analysis of the results of PCA, and the operation of the PCC (Art. 4).

. The Prime Minister must seek Cabinet approval for the implementation of PCA and the implementation plan, together with revisions to the plan (Art. 6).

. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also has the right to request the Prime Minister to seek a Cabinet decision on the implementation of PCA when he deems the time appropriate (Art. 6). The PCC will maintain close contact with the relevant Japanese diplomatic missions (Art. 9).

. The Prime Minister must report to the Diet all decisions to proceed with an implementation plan, the completion and results of a "peace cooperation activity", and any revisions of the timeframe of such activity (Art. 7).

. The Prime Minister has the right to appoint and dismiss all members of the PCC (Art. 10).

In the implementation of PCA Japan will seek the concurrence of the parties to the conflict and the nations of the region where the operations were to take place (Art. 3(2)).

4. Main Issues Arising from the Bill

Domestic political constraints on the legislation

The present Bill, like its predecessor, has had to take account of constitutional requirements, especially article 9 of the Constitution, Japanese public opinion, and political realities in the Diet.

. As regards Article 9 there are differing interpretations between the Government and major opposition parties as to its applicability to a peace-keeping role for the SDF: the Government argues that SDF involvement in United Nations peace-keeping operations is not incompatible with Article 9, while the SDPJ argues the (traditional) point that this article prohibits the SDF being deployed overseas in any capacity. The Government also argues that non-participation in UN peace-keeping operations represents a failure by Japan to fulfil its responsibilities as a signatory to the UN Charter which in turn constitutes a violation of Article 98 of the Constitution which states that " the treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed" 16 .

. Public opinion in Japan has generally been very supportive of Article 9 of the Constitution, and especially of the constraints on the SDF. Some commentators, however, suggest that a gradual change is occurring in how the public views possible Japanese participation in UN peace-keeping operations, and that this reflects the impact on public opinion of the end of the Cold War and associated changes in the international environment, especially the enhanced role of the United Nations. Opinion polls, nevertheless, do not yet appear to have picked up this trend. In fact various opinion polls indicated that only 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the Japanese public were in favour of the passage of the earlier legislation in 1990. According to a further poll conducted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun in early June 1992 only 15 per cent of those polled unconditionally supported the UNPKO Bill while 39 per cent opposed the Bill. An even more significant figure, perhaps, was the 40 per cent who considered the legislation inevitable given the international pressure on Japan to play a greater international role 17 . This latter figure would suggest that over time and despite the immediate controversy the majority of the Japanese public would come to accept the legislation, though not necessarily with any degree of enthusiasm.

. By contrast, politics in the Diet remain fairly volatile. The Miyazawa Government has continued to be embarrassed by a series of political scandals and there is a strong possibility that the mid-year elections for the House of Councillors will further erode the LDP's position and make it even more dependant on the support of the smaller opposition parties in the upper house. At the same time these opposition parties, notably the Komeito, are experiencing their own internal problems which will make them even more difficult allies for the LDP than might otherwise have been the case. Such continuing volatility, together with the parliamentary controls discussed below, could ensure that the issue of SDF deployment in support of UN peace-keeping operations will remain a contentious political issue for the foreseeable future.

The compromise between the LDP and the two opposition parties(Komeito and the DSP) May 1992

The present legislation, like its predecessor, is the product of political compromise and this in turn, it could be argued, raises questions of the effectiveness of the Japanese contribution (under the rubric of the PCC) to United Nations peace-keeping operations:

. As was indicated in the previous section the PCC's contributions to peace-keeping would be limited to non-combat roles, and this restriction has been further underlined by the compromise reached by the LDP with the DSP and Komeito in late May in order to secure passage of the Bill. This compromise also increased parliamentary control over the deployment overseas of the PCC; according to the agreement:

.. there will be a "freeze" on potential Japanese participation in any peace-keeping operation deemed to carry a high risk of armed conflict, unless the Diet passes amendments to authorise such operations;

.. once the freeze is lifted, each such operation would have to be approved specifically by the Diet;

.. the measure must be reviewed in three years 18 .

It has been noted that such restrictions could prevent the early deployment of a Japanese PCC in situations such as that obtaining in Cambodia. On the other hand Japanese Government sources claim that members of the Japanese SDF could be deployed in a purely logistical role in Cambodia by September or October. These same sources suggest that the prohibition on military roles for the PCC could be lifted in two years 19 . It should be observed, however, that there is no certainty of such an outcome, and that under the present legislation Japanese involvement in United Nations peace-keeping is carefully restricted and conditional.

Concern within the SDF

According to Japanese officials, indeed, the SDF itself is reluctant to be involved in peace-keeping operations under the terms of the present legislation, precisely because they are too restrictive. The SDF is unhappy that its members would not be sent on these peace-keeping operations as soldiers. There are also concerns about the conditions of service for SDF personnel serving overseas on United nations peace-keeping operations 20 .

Concerns of regional states

Regional states are particularly alert to any suggestion of Japan's re-emergence as a military power, this is especially the case with China, the Koreas and the states of Southeast Asia 21 .

. These states suffered to varying degrees from Japanese military excesses in the 1930s and 1940s, and they remain concerned with the failure, in their view, of Japan's political elite to face up to the nation's past. On this issue they compare adversely Japan's position with that of Germany. As the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, told a business seminar in Kyoto in February 1992:

How you educate your children is your business. But if we [ie Japan's regional neighbours] see that you are glossing over the past, then we must come to some unfavourable conclusions. 22

. They regard Japan's proposed involvement in United Nations peace-keeping operations as the thin end of the wedge: they fear that it will prove to be merely an acceptable mechanism for the future projection of Japanese military power overseas.

. Japan believes that such opposition is not undifferentiated: officials distinguish between the states of Southeast Asia on the one hand and the countries of Northeast Asia (China and the Koreas) on the other. They assert that the former are less hardline on this issue than the former. It might be noted in this regard that China has an interest in cultivating Japan as a means of ending its diplomatic isolation since June 1989, as indicated by the favourable reception given former Prime Minister Kaifu during his official visit to China in August 1991. This might well temper China's response to the present Bill.

. Japanese officials also assert that Japan will discuss issues of deployment with regional states (as stated in the Bill) and will be sensitive to their concerns. They claim that Japan would not deploy troops for peace-keeping operations against the wishes of important regional states.

The UN Security Council's more activist view of peace-keeping

The declaration of the extraordinary meeting of the United Nations Security Council, issued on 31 January 1992, committing itself to strengthening the organisation's peace-keeping role(including resurrecting the moribund Military Affairs Committee) perhaps provides a more favourable international environment for the realisation of Japan's desire to become engaged in peace-keeping activities 23 .

5. Conclusion

In sum, although the UNPKO legislation is hedged about with important qualifications, and the uncertain political environment will ensure that the issue of the overseas deployment of members of the SDF will remain a matter of political debate in the immediate future, this legislation, nevertheless, provides a mechanism for the dispatch of military forces overseas which can be refined further by future Japanese governments. As one Japanese observer, Professor Motofumi Asai of Meiji Gakuin University, notes:

What people don't understand is that this is not a compromise. This sets a precedent. People will get used to the idea, and then the Government will take the next step toward engaging militarily with the world 24 .

The Government, for its part, although regarding the legislation as somewhat less than perfect, also considers it to be a necessary first step for Japan to play a larger role in international affairs while, at the same time reaffirming its fundamental policy not to become a military power. As Prime Minister Miyazawa stated on 9 June 1992:

Under the PKO Law, the Government of Japan intends to cooperate extensively for U.N. Peace-keeping Operations.

It is hereby reaffirmed that Japan will continue to strictly abide by its basic policy not to become a military power which threatens other countries, by maintaining a strictly defensive posture under the Peace Constitution, and taking account of the past lessons [sic], in discharging its responsibilities more than ever before the peace and stability of the world.

The Government of Japan intends to make a positive contribution in terms of personnel as much as possible with a view to maintaining and enhancing world peace, through appropriate applications of the present laws 25 .


1 For discussion of the debate on the remilitarisation of Japan see Gary Brown, Remilitarising Japan: Inevitable, Dangerous, Desirable?, Parliamentary Research Service Background Paper, 5 December 1990.

2 Sadako Ogata, "The United Nations and Japanese Diplomacy", Japan Review of International Affairs 4 (2) Fall/Winter 1990: 141-165.

3 Reinhard Drifte, Japan's Foreign Policy, London: The Royal Institute of International Affairs/Routledge, 1990, pp61-62; Ogata, pp159-160.

4 Ogata, p.161-162; Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), 13 September 1990; FEER, 1 November 1990.

5 Courtney Purrington and "A.K."[pseud.], "Tokyo's policy responses during the Gulf crisis", Asian Survey 31 (4), April 1991, pp 313-314; FEER, 15 November 1990.

6 FEER, 6 December 1990.

7 FEER, 6 June 1991.

8 FEER, 21 November 1991.

9 FEER, 26 December 1991.

10 FEER, 21 May 1992.

11 Agence France Presse, 17 June 1992.

12 Reuter's, 15 June 1992.

13 Associated Press, 9 June 1992.

14 Associated Press, 16 June 1992; The Age, 16 June 1992.

15 The following section draws on an unofficial English translation of "the United Nations Peace-keeping Co-operation Law [sic]" issued by the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Foreign Press Center, 19 September 1991.

16 The Constitution of Japan, Chapter X: Supreme Law, Art. 98 (emphasis added).

17 The Australian, 11 June 1992.

18 The New York Times, 1 June 1992; The Asian Wall Street Journal, 5-6 June 1992; The New York Times, 10 June 1992;

19 The Australian, 17 June 1992.

20 Reuter's, 8 June 1992.

21 Reuter's, 10 June; Reuter's, 11 June 1992; Reuter's, 16 June 1992.

22 Business Times, 14 February 1992.

23 The Times, 1 February 1992.

24 The New York Times, 10 June 1992.

25 Japan Foreign Ministry, Press Release. Statement made by the Prime Minister on the Enactment of the Law Concerning Cooperation for U.N. Peace-keeping Operations (PKO) and Other Operations and the Law to Amend part of the Law related to the Dispatch of Japan Disaster Relief Team (JDRT), 9 June 1992.

ISSN 1038-0116

Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 1992

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1992