Ammunition supply must not be an excuse for militarism
Japan's supply of ammunition to Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan has created a stir.
On Monday, the Korean Army's Hanbit unit received 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Japan's Self Defense Forces through the United Nations' mission in the African country. The ammunition delivery was made out of necessity to beef up the defense posture of the unit, which mainly consists of engineers and medics, as fighting has spread across South Sudan since Dec. 15.
It was the first time that Japan, which is barred from using force to settle disputes under its pacifist constitution, has provided weapons to the military of another country. Seoul's Defense Ministry said Tokyo had supplied the bullets under U.N. authority because the neighboring countries coincidentally use the same ammunition, cautioning against any over-interpretation of the ammunition delivery.
But given Japan's moves leading up to the swift decision to provide ammunition to Korean peacekeepers at an emergency meeting Monday of the National Security Council chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it was obvious that the world's third-largest economy had intentions to use the incident as an excuse to beef up the military and lend support to its pursuit of collective self-defense.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement that the ammunition supply was exempt from the country's long-held arms exports ban, citing its urgency and humanitarian nature. But he aroused suspicion concerning Japan's political motives by adding in the statement that, ''We will make further contributions to international peace and stability under a policy of proactive pacifism.'' This is because Japan has often used the term "proactive pacifism" to justify its logic for collective self-defense feared by Korea, China and most other Asian nations as a revival of militarism.
Japan's abrupt turnabout from its three principles on weapons exports is suspicious enough to raise questions about Abe's more assertive foreign policy. This suspicion is all the more plausible, given that Japan's previous administrations have repeatedly said that the country is not expected to provide weapons or ammunition to foreign troops under its peacekeeping operations law, while hinting that it would decline any such U.N. request. Japan even refused to provide weapons and ammunition to the United States, its key ally.
Our defense officials can't avoid criticism for being easygoing on the highly sensitive issue at a time when Japan's military expansion is causing a strong backlash in Northeast Asia. It's lamentable that any unit in our government has not expected and braced for diplomatic ripples the receipt of Japanese weapons would cause.
We feel it increasingly inevitable to separate Japan's wartime history from security, considering the rapidly changing security environment surrounding the peninsula. But Japan should not capitalize on an unrelated issue to justify its attempt to again emerge as a military power.