Japan will begin training soldiers to conduct rescue and military escort missions during UN peacekeeping operations, the government said, potentially embroiling its troops in overseas military actions for the first time since World War Two. The training will begin this month for Self Defence Force units due to be deployed as peacekeepers in South Sudan in November, Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said on Wednesday.
“We want the Self Defence Force to contribute what it can within the constraints of the constitution so it is important that they train thoroughly,” Inada said outside Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s residence following a regular ministerial meeting. Any decision to order Japanese troops on rescue missions would be left to the Cabinet.
The widening of Japan’s military role in UN missions comes after Abe’s government implemented controversial security legislation in March that is seen as a step back from the post-war pacifist constitution by allowing it to come to the aid of allies under attack and giving it a broader role overseas. The decision to train troops to go on rescue missions and to take a more active role in base security during peacekeeping operations is one of the first substantive operational changes since the new laws came into force.
Japanese troops have been part of a UN mission in South Sudan since 2012. Around 350 military engineers in the capital Juba are rebuilding roads and other infrastructure in South Sudan. Renewed fighting in July killed around 300 people, prompting Japan to evacuate some of its government aid workers civilians.