Media Mix, Oct. 30, 2016

Road-building in South Sudan

Road-building in South Sudan

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the status of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces when they’re dispatched overseas to participate in peacekeeping missions. What’s odd about the obfuscation carried out by the government is that, by all accounts, the public seems to want the SDF to take on a more proactive role in matters like this. The ruling party definitely wants the SDF to someday become a real standing army but they never talk openly about it because they think the public isn’t ready for it. For that reason they want to amend the Constitution first in order to allow for a broader range of military activities, and the media puts this across as an attempt to do an end-run around public opinion. But while it’s not completely clear how much the average Japanese person will accept in terms of military deployment, some recent surveys have shown that a good portion of respondents say they want the SDF to carry out rescue missions abroad, and would accept the use of force in such cases, especially if Japanese people are the ones being rescued. As pointed out in the column, South Sudan’s situation is special in that even if the SDF already were authorized to carry out such rescues they would be violating some laws if they found themselves in conflict with government forces, who seem to be responsible for a good part of the violence in the country targeting civilians. But the point is that the public may not be as squeamish about the matter as the government thinks it is.

Kenji Isezaki, the former UN official mentioned in the column, is perhaps the most cogent media personality voicing this sentiment. He is all for amending the Constitution to clarify the SDF’s role and even expanding it to cover overseas postings, though mainly it has to do with legally limiting the government’s options with regard to waging war. He has also said a number of times that he believes the government would like nothing better than for an SDF member to be killed in the line of duty, since that would galvanize the Japanese public, who would then call for more action with regards to allowing the SDF leeway to defend itself and be more aggressive when it is dispatched to conflict areas–something they aren’t allowed to do now. That may sound cynical and macabre, but the government has so far only shown that they’d prefer moving forward in their schemes by moving sideways in their methodology.

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