35. Are UN Peacekeeping Operations helpful for peace making?

2 June 2016


As the Japanese Security Bills are expected to expand the activities of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) overseas, let us think about the “Act on Cooperation with United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations (PKO) (International Peace Cooperation),” which is one of these bills.

   The main discussion at the Diet, which has concentrated on the risk to SDF members and the so-called “rush to rescue” mission (kaketsuke keigo), is based on the assumption that PKO are “necessary for peacekeeping.” However, the fact that PKO can prolong a conflict and cause destabilization in certain locations has never been discussed. 

   So how can the PKO prolong a conflict? This is related to the fact that a cease-fire agreement among the parties to a conflict in The Five Principles of PKO is weak, and the neutrality of PKO has been questioned. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the troop contributing countries do not have a strong political will in favor of peacekeeping itself. Instead, they have political and economic motives behind their contributions. It can be said that these countries have five main motives for deploying their forces for PKO.

   First of all, multinational PKOs are deployed to where they can exchange military expertise. For instance, since 2013, PKO has been using unarmed drones for the first time for surveillance purposes. It is highly likely that contributing countries regard such practical experience as useful in their own countries.

   Second, for troops from both the “developing” and “developed” countries, participation in the PKO can bring enormous benefits not only in terms of salaries but also in terms of their access to natural resources in locations where these exist. It has been pointed out that the reason why India, Pakistan and South Africa have been deploying their troops for years to the world’s largest PKO in the natural resources-abundant Democratic Republic of Congo is due to their interest in economic rights in that country.

   Third, PKO are an effective way to enhance the image and visibility of a country as one that is contributing to peace. For instance, Japan’s Rwandan Refugees Assistance Unit was deployed in 1994, as the name suggests, to save refugees. However, according to the SDF commander, “we wanted to achieve a concrete goal in relief activity. However, we noticed it was impossible to do this. Therefore, we decided to change this goal a little by hoisting the Hinomaru, the national flag of Japan, together with that of Zaire wherever the SDF was deployed.”      Furthermore, the “All-Japan Approach,” which involves reconstruction and development aid from the Japanese government, the SDF, and Japanese companies and NGOs together, was provided in East Timor and Haiti, and is currently in place in South Sudan. However, it is said that the goal of this approach is merely to raise Japan’s global visibility.

   Fourth, PKO deployment is used as “political capital.” Let us look at the example of Rwanda, which has the world’s fifth largest PKO. According to a leaked United Nations Report, the Rwandan military was involved in acts in eastern Congo in the 1990s that can be characterized as genocide. In addition, when one senior officer of the Rwandan military was appointed as the senior officer in Sudan’s PKO, his past involvement in serious human rights violations was pointed out. However, the Rwandan government threatened to withdraw its PKO troops from Sudan if the report was disclosed or its senior officer was fired. In the end, the UN did not investigate the crimes committed by the Rwandan military or those alleged to have been committed by the senior officer.

   Finally, when superpowers want to act politically, it is highly likely that they will use PKO as an alternative. For instance, South Sudan is a strategic and crucial country for the United States, but the question remains why Japan, the United States’ ally, has deployed its PKO troops to South Sudan.

   Furthermore, the conflict broke out in South Sudan in 2013, so reviewing the “approval of a cease-fire among the parties to the conflict” in The Five Principles of PKO was required. To be more precise, the SDF was deployed to South Sudan in 2011 when it became independent on the basis of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Sudan and South Sudan. However, another conflict within South Sudan erupted at the end of 2013, apart from the civil war between South and North Sudan. A cease-fire agreement was signed in January, 2014, but the conflict is ongoing. In other words, this issue was “unexpected,” because another conflict erupted among other parties to the conflict who were not present when the SDF was deployed at the beginning. Thus, another discussion was necessary about whether or not to withdraw the SDF from South Sudan after an extension of the interpretation of the phrase “a cease-fire among the parties to the conflict,” but the Government of Japan did not provide a sufficient explanation about this to the public.

   Therefore, under the name of peacekeeping, it has been acknowledged as a problem that the PKO has been used for other purposes, and that it has not contributed enough to conflict resolution. In order to review how Japan can participate in the future’s PKO for establishing peace, it is essential not to discuss this act with the other bills of International Pease Cooperation but rather, first, to deepen our discussion of the nature of PKO.



  • Asahi Shimbun, ‘Increasing risk of Self Defense Force, Undeclared,’ July 18, 2015 (in Japanese)
  • Kamimoto, Mitsunobu. Japan’s First International Humanitarian Relief Activity: Relief of Rwandan Refugees, 80 Days in Goma, Zaire, Naigai Publishing, 2004 (in Japanese)
  • Lynch, Colum. ‘U.S. Backed U.N. General Despite Evidence of Abuses’, The Washington Post, 21 September, 2008. 
  • Plaut, Martin. ‘Congo spotlight on India and Pakistan’, BBC, 28 April, 2008.
  • Uesugi, Yuji. ‘All-Japan Approach to International Peace Operations’, Journal of International Peacekeeping, Vol. 18, Issues 3-4, 2014. de Waal, Alex. ‘Contemporary Warfare in Africa’, Mary Kaldor and Basker Vashee, Restructing the Global Military Sector, UNU and World Institute for Development Economic Research, London: Pinton, 1997-8.
  • Yonekawa, Masako. ‘Why the Security in Eastern DRCongo not Restored? DRC and Rwanda’s Intention on Security and Neutrality of UN’ The Journal of International Security, Vol. 41, No. 4, March 2014 (in Japanese)

Masako Yonekawa