The Japan NewsAtul Khare, U.N. undersecretary general for field support, recently visited Tokyo to attend a preparatory meeting for a U.N. peacekeeping defense ministerial conference scheduled for November in Canada. In an interview with The Japan News, Khare discussed Japan’s engagement in U.N. peacekeeping missions. The following excerpts are taken from this interview.
The Japan News: What do you think about Japan’s peacekeeping operations?
Atul Khare: This is the 25th year of Japan’s participation in peacekeeping, starting from 1992, when Japan adopted its peacekeeping law. I think with the efforts of successive prime ministers of Japan, and the successive ministers of defense and ministers of foreign affairs, Japanese participation in peacekeeping has been very important, very critical, and a force for improvement of peace and security in the world.
So far, about 12,500 Japanese [Self-Defense Forces personnel and others] have served abroad in U.N. peacekeeping operations, starting from Cambodia, then Mozambique, then Golan Heights, East Timor and South Sudan. And I think in all these places the contributions of Japanese officers have been excellent.
And these engineers do very good work in repairing roads and repairing bridges, making new roads, making new bridges, making camps for people to stay — and they have been of very high quality.
In fact, the battalion withdrawn from South Sudan made extremely good roads. Without these roads, you cannot do peacekeeping, [which requires traveling] from one place to another.
I evaluate the professionalism, dedication and commitment of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces as perhaps one of the best in the world. I also want to say that they are extremely well disciplined. The command and control is very good. Out of the 12,500 members deployed in 25 years, there was not even one case of indiscipline. Zero cases. The discipline of Japanese [SDF personnel] is something to be praised, and [something] other countries can learn from.
Q: In Japan, new security-related legislation has enabled SDF personnel to engage in so-called kaketsuke keigo rescue missions, coming to the aid of civilians under attack by foreign armed groups. What do you think about this?
A: I will not comment on the domestic legislation of any country, because [it is] a question of the sovereign right of the parliament, of the government. But any legislation of any country that improves their participation in peacekeeping is, of course, to be welcomed.
Peacekeeping is a question of partnership ... between different countries who are deployed together, and of course the U.N., which is supporting all these different countries in their deployment. Now, when different countries are deployed together, obviously we have to come to the help of each other.
In 1993, Japanese policeman Haruyuki Takata unfortunately died. [Takata was killed while engaged in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cambodia as a civilian policeman.] At that time, other countries’ militaries came to the assistance of the Japanese police and [SDF members]. Similarly, I think it is normal in a partnership that if others come to your assistance, you also have to provide assistance to others. And I think this is also a principle of peacekeeping, to help each other in the mission, to have a unified mission without any caveat.
Some countries say we will [provide] soldiers, but they cannot do this or cannot do that. But we don’t want these caveats. Because if there are caveats, then we do not know what exactly the soldier can or cannot do. In that sense, I think any legislation that improves the participation of a country in peacekeeping is to be welcomed.
Q: In May, Japan withdrew its SDF units from South Sudan, and there are cautious views about dispatching new units to U.N. peacekeeping missions. What do you think about this?
A: I think I would encourage renewed, continued participation by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in active peacekeeping. But apart from that, in 2013, Japan adopted the defense guideline on “proactive contribution to peace” in the world. And this proactive contribution ... is not only a question of sending Japanese engineers. It is also a question of developing the capacity of African countries, of other countries, so [they] can participate in peacekeeping.
Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe announced a project on African regional development of engineering capacities that we call the Triangular Partnership Project. [Under it], we have [conducted lots of] training over the last two years, since the announcement in Nairobi by my department, along with engineers from the SDF ... Countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda have all been trained in this project in the use of heavy engineering machinery, bulldozers, cranes and so on. And you know, after training, these people have even been deployed to peacekeeping operations. So this is an active contribution by Japan, because without the training, they could not have been deployed. This should also be counted as a contribution.
Q: Expectations regarding the roles of U.N. peacekeepers are said to have changed from ceasefire monitoring to something more like the protection of civilians. Do you think there are any differences compared to 10 years ago?
A: Yes, because 10 years ago, we had the mission in Timor-Leste [East Timor] ... We call [that mission] one of the last missions of state-building. We had many state-building missions till about 10 years ago, starting from Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Costa Rica and so on, where we were ... strengthening the government. Today, more than strengthening the government, the question is [about the] protection of civilians. And I think we need to do much more.
The best mechanism for protection of civilians ... is for the country concerned to assume responsibility. That is the first responsibility of any country. I think we can only assist countries on the assumption of their responsibilities, and, on the whole, the protection of civilians has been successful. In South Sudan, for example, hundreds and thousands of South Sudanese people are being sheltered in camps right next door to U.N. camps so that they can feel safe, they can feel secure, and I think we need to do much more on this score.
[Countries] can also contribute by providing equipment, because there are many countries which want to participate, [and] they have got good soldiers, but do not have the equipment. Currently, out of nearly 400 units, 59 have got major gaps in equipment. This can be corrected by countries like Japan.
Q: What roles do you expect Japan to play?
A: More than peacekeeping. I think Japan is a very important force for international peace and security. And in this regard, I think we need to focus not only on peacekeeping, but also on conflict prevention, because it is better to prevent conflict than to try to dissolve it after it has already erupted. So, conflict prevention, conflict mediation and, of course, what we call sustaining peace ... like, for example, in [East] Timor. Sustaining peace is also very critical.
Japan is a very important member of the peace-building commission, and is already playing an important role in sustaining peace, as I said. Insofar as prevention, I think it is very important [for] Japanese special envoys in situations where peacekeeping operations may be deployed to work hand in hand with the special representatives of the [U.N.] secretary general to produce results.
■ Atul Khare / U.N. undersecretary general for field support
Born in India in 1959, Khare has served as special representative of the secretary general for Timor-Leste and head of the U.N. Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). He has also served as assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations and deputy head of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. He took up his current post in March 2015.