On December 21, 2012, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan quietly posted a press release entitled “Completion of the activities by the Japan’s Self-Defense Force personnel dispatched to the UNDOF” at the Gloan Hights in Syria. “Completion” may be somewhat misleading if you consider the following excerpt:
“Considering the current situation on the ground, the Government of Japan has arrived at the understanding that it is difficult for both the Japanese transportation unit and the staff officers to continue playing a meaningful role within the mission while ensuring safety of the personnel and, therefore, decided to pull all personnel out of the UNDOF area of operations.”
Japan now has exactly one UN peacekeeping operation in which the Self Defense Force is engaged remaining, as this Jan. 15 Yomiuri report marking the JSDF departure from the Ben-Gurion Airport points out. That’s in South Sudan, where you may remember that then-Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa had been very reluctant to involve Japanese troops. This is remarkable when you also remember that it all started with the 1993 Gulf War, when Japan was razzed for ponying up 10 billion dollars and little else during the fighting. This led to troops on the ground in Samara and more generally in PKO activities worldwide and to a serious push to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council as part of an “international contribution” drive. Now, the Japanese focus is on the regional, 24/7, and the Abe administration is doing nothing visibly to reverse that. Greatness begins at the near-abroad? In a way, it’s not surprising that Abe is channeling the Meiji leaders.