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Seoul rules out Japanese troops on peninsula

Changes to UNC code could expand number of ‘sending states’  PLAY AUDIO

July 12,2019
The United Nations Command (UNC) may be considering legal revisions to its code, military sources told local media Thursday, possibly paving the way for Japanese troops to set foot on the Korean Peninsula for the first time since Japan’s defeat in World War II.

According to multiple government sources in South Korea, plans could be in motion to include Japan as a member of the UNC on the Korean Peninsula - which could allow Tokyo to deploy members of its Self Defense Forces in the event of conflict in Korea.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense ruled out the idea on Thursday, with its deputy spokesman saying Japan could not act as a member state of the UNC because it did not take part in combat operations during the 1950-53 Korean War.

According to several sources in the South Korean government, the United States, which has the largest foreign military presence in Korea and effectively leads the UN forces, wants to expand the role of other UNC member states in assisting military operations and logistics if war breaks out on the peninsula. This is part of the organization’s larger effort to revitalize its structure.

“In this respect, [the United States] has expressed hope that Japan, where the UNC’s rear bases are stationed, will also participate as a UN ‘sending state’ that provides troops and equipment to the Korean Peninsula in the event of conflict,” a source said. Early this year, the UNC finalized a legal review to lowering the bar for which countries can serve as sending states, according to sources, which could include nations like Japan or Germany.

It was also revealed by South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Thursday that the United States tried to have Germany dispatch military officers to the UNC, but the plan fizzled out due to opposition from Seoul.

An English version of the U.S. Forces Korea’s Strategic Digest 2019 - its annual newsletter - said the UNC was pursuing an augmentation to its mission in Korea, adding that it “continues to ensure the support and force flow through Japan that would be necessary in times of crisis.” This latter phrase fueled further speculation that Tokyo would be invited as a UNC sending state, though Seoul’s Defense Ministry said this was a mistranslation from the newsletter’s Korean version.

The UNC, the unified command structure in charge of the multinational forces that supported South Korea during and after the Korean War, is made up of 17 member states in addition to South Korea, including the United States, Australia, Britain and Thailand - all of which provided combat forces during the war. These so-called sending states are obliged to send troops and equipment in defense of South Korea should the armistice agreement that ended the war in 1953 fail.

Japan is not an official member of the command, though its hosting of the UNC’s rear headquarters on its territory makes it an unofficial provider of military logistical support in the eventuality of conflict in Korea.

The speculation that Japanese forces could be deployed on Korean territory in wartime - anathema to a country with vivid memories of its occupation by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945 - comes at a time when the neighboring countries have been butting heads over a host of historical disputes and Tokyo’s recent decision to impose trade restrictions against Seoul.

No confirmation has been made by the UNC on the reports, likely as a result of the tensions dominating the two countries’ relationship at the present.

The move could be related, however, to the Shinzo Abe administration’s determination to expand the role of Tokyo’s armed forces in overseas activities amid rising competition with China. In 2014, the Japanese government approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 of its constitution - which outlaws the country’s ability to take part in belligerent actions and was imposed after its defeat in World War II - that allows it to exercise the right of “collective self defense” if Japan or its allies are attacked. South Korea announced following this revision that it would not allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to be deployed to Korea without its approval in the event of war.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe, meanwhile, continues to push for constitutional change by 2020 to enable his country to legally possess military forces with the capacity to wage war abroad.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, LEE CHUL-JAE [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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