Published : 2013-12-25 19:59
Updated : 2013-12-25 20:57
Controversy has arisen after Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan received 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Japan’s Peacekeeping Operations troops in the war-torn African country.
The 280-member Korean contingent, Hanbit, has been stationed since March in the town of Bor, some 170 kilometers north of Juba, the capital. Last week, the town was seized by rebels, prompting the Korean troops to step up a defense posture.
The Hanbit troops’ mission is to assist in the country’s reconstruction efforts. As such, the troops are composed mostly of engineers and medics. Currently, they are protecting some 15,000 refugees.
The troops were not attacked by rebels. But they sought to prepare for such contingencies. So they asked the U.N. Mission in South Sudan to provide them with additional ammunition. The UNMISS arranged for U.S. and Japanese PKO troops to provide ammunition.
The troops’ request for additional ammunition was the right decision as they were facing an emergency situation. But it spawned a controversy in Seoul as ammunition support came from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. It was the first time that the nation’s armed forces have received weapons from the Japanese military.
Had support from Japanese troops taken place when Seoul and Tokyo were on good terms, it would not have mattered much. But the relationship between the two neighbors is now at its lowest ebb in years, especially because of Japan’s pursuit of the right to collective self-defense.
Critics noted that the episode in Sudan has served as a good opportunity for Tokyo to publicize its “proactive pacifism,” a euphemism for its controversial campaign to secure for itself the U.N.-sanctioned right of collective self-defense.
Indeed, the Tokyo government played up its provision of ammunition to Korean troops as an illustration of its commitment to safeguarding world peace under its vision of proactive pacifism.
As the controversy flared over Japan’s offering of ammunition, the Seoul government weighed in, saying that the episode should not be seen as a sign of Seoul’s support for Japan’s pursuit of collective self-defense.
As the Korean Foreign Ministry noted, there is nothing special about the situation. Korean troops in South Sudan had to ask for ammunition support as they were in danger. Japanese troops offered help, as PKO troops from any country would have done in that situation.
But it should be noted that the Hanbit troops would not have needed additional ammunition had the Ministry of Defense provided them with enough when they left for South Sudan.
PKO troops are usually sent to conflict-ridden countries. As they are exposed to danger, they should be equipped to defend themselves in an emergency situation.
The ministry needs to bear this in mind. Now, it should take all necessary steps to ensure that the Hanbit troops carry out their missions and return home safely.