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Is the Cruz Report the end of peacekeeping for Japan?

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2017 was the most dangerous year in a quarter century for U.N.-led peacekeeping missions, following a steady trend of increasing attacks on peacekeepers over the past five years. In response, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commissioned former Force Commander Dos Santos Cruz to examine what could be done to limit risks to peacekeepers in today’s conflicts. The resulting report, “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers” (known as the Cruz Report), demands a fundamental shift of peacekeeping toward a more “proactive posture,” requiring that peacekeepers use “overwhelming force” in the face of hostile actors.

This could provide a useful push for the U.N., but it will almost certainly complicate Japan’s return to peacekeeping after last year’s withdrawal of its blue helmets from South Sudan. If peacekeeping is heading in the direction of more proactive use of force in the most dangerous conflicts in the world, is there a role for the historically risk-averse Japan? There may be, but Tokyo will need to think creatively if and how Japan is to re-engage in peacekeeping.

Japan’s peacekeeping role

Japan has a proud 26-year history of peacekeeping, starting in 1992 when the Diet enacted a law enabling Self-Defence Forces to take part in U.N. peacekeeping missions. However, Japanese participation in peacekeeping took place within tight constraints set by the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution, the restrictive peacekeeping legislation (limiting deployment to settings in which a cease-fire is in place and use of force is limited to self-defense), and the Japanese population’s strong aversion to putting Japanese soldiers at risk in foreign conflicts. Although Japan has deployed approximately 10,000 personnel to peacekeeping missions since its initial engagement in Cambodia, these restrictions have tended to keep Japanese forces from operating on the........

© The Japan Times