The Cable

Japan Deploys Troops Abroad While Narrowly Avoiding Disaster Back Home

Japan may soon learn that expensive adventures abroad can be at odds with covering costs at home.


For the first times in decades, Japan deployed troops authorized to use force.

On Monday, Japanese Self-Defense Force troops arrived in Juba, South Sudan to take over from previous Japanese peacekeepers. Unlike their predecessors, however, these troops have a mandate to “use weapons to defend people, including aid workers, and cooperate with other foreign peacekeepers to protect their camps” — although they may not “engage with an opposing army.” That would go against Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which says, “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Nevertheless, the deployment of troops authorized to use force is a departure from a (constitutionally mandated) tradition of pacifism that’s nearly 70 years old in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lobbied hard for the legislative change that came into effect in March, which was made amid concern over China’s growing military might and rising regional tensions.

Opponents of the change had expressed fear it increases the likelihood that Japan will go to war. Critics of the decision to deploy troops to South Sudan worry that the move will drag Japan into a complicated and costly conflict in which, as NPR reported, “it has little stake.”

And, indeed, on Monday, the Japanese government received a reminder that expensive adventures abroad can indeed be at odds with covering costs at home. After a 7.4 magnitude earthquake — apparently an after effect of a 2011 earthquake — hit off the coast of Fukushima, Japan issued a tsunami warning.

The warning has since been lifted, but the effects of the earthquake were felt as far as Tokyo and injured at least 14. Residents are staying alert for another earthquake in the days ahead — which means thousands are being relocated to avoid the effects of another expensive sort of deadly force.

Photo credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

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