No place for political exploitation

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No place for political exploitation

South Korean troops in peacekeeping operations under the United Nations in South Sudan have received ammunition support from Japan. It is the first time that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces provided ammunition to another country since the country’s postwar self-enforced pacifist military constraint that includes a ban on arms exports. Some criticize the move as inappropriate in view of the current political and diplomatic spat with Japan, a country that has turned decisively assertive in its military ambition and nationalistic in its views of history. Korea could be exploited by Japanese politicians for self-serving purposes. But under life-threatening circumstances, the decision was a correct one.

More than 7,600 soldiers from 50 nations are part of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, which is embroiled in violence, and “rapidly deteriorating further into ethnic clashes and a full-fledged civil war.” The UN Security Council agreed to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s request to send more peacekeepers to the conflict-ridden country.

Since 2010, South Korea has stationed 210 military engineers and 70 special combat soldiers in the town of Bor, some 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of the capital Juba, as part of a UN restoration mission. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces sent about 320 personnel, mostly engineers. With the country on the brink of a full-blown civil war, the safety of peacekeepers has been threatened. The South Korean commander asked UN headquarters in South Sudan for emergency ammunition. Korea and Japan both use 5.56-milimeter bullets, and the Japanese forces agreed to provide 10,000 rounds.

In an emergency situation, allied forces must cooperate, especially when the safety of soldiers is at risk. It should be decided by the commander in charge. The current Korea-Japan relationship should not matter to a commander whose priority is to ensure the safety of his troops. The decision and coordination was made through the UN.

Even if the Korean commander sought help directly from his Japanese counterpart, it shouldn’t be a problem given the dangerous situation.

What should matter is a slow response from our home defense authorities. If they had acted expeditiously in response to developments in the African country where our soldiers are dispatched, we could have avoided seeking help. But the Japanese government has made a big deal over the case in order to justify its plan to restore its right to collective self-defense. The peacekeeping mission in South Sudan is part of a UN campaign. Selfish nationalistic interests should be kept at bay.

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