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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (August 11, 2003)

Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia?: By Acting Now Japan Can Say No Later

Allen Lewis (International University of Japan and GLOCOM)

The 9/11 terrorist attack on the US facilitated the redefinition of Japan's security commitment to the US and illustrated its willingness to take a more active role in the War on Terror. On October 29th 2001, The Koizumi administration quickly passed the Special Measures Antiterrorism Law through the Diet, sending a clear message of support to Washington and distancing itself from past criticisms of 'too little too late' that it received after the Gulf War in 1991. In the aftermath of 9/11, public support for the War on Terror allowed for the passage of the counter-terrorism legislation that preceded the deployment of Japanese forces to Afghanistan, a first for anything other than peacekeeping, since World War II. However, the historic anti-terrorism law limits Japanese support to actions directly related to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Japan's substantial contribution for Afghanistan was just what was needed to show support for the US and the War on Terrorism and a poignant example of Japan's realization of its need to quickly respond to the changing security environment and the threats posed by global terrorism.

Despite the public's misgivings, Japan will most likely send troops in some capacity to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. Their role, where they are stationed—possibly Baghdad International Airport, are details that need to be ironed out and polished. However, the issue is no longer IF, but where and how. That's the case now, whether we like it or not, but what is the future of the War on Terror?

The recent debates surrounding Japans Peacekeeping/reconstructing/occupation in Iraq have emphasized and focused on the short term issues and missed the larger point and longer term benefits. Japan's commitment to support the US in the Global War on Terrorism has been widely appreciated and encouraged by the US. Good. After Afghanistan and Iraq, (where Japan will do something, somewhere, were just not sure where or how yet) Japan has made a substantial deposit in the Bank of Good Will America. Japan has proven that the checkbook diplomacy it utilized after the first war in Iraq is a thing of the past. Japan's peacekeepers have been on the ground in Afghanistan and will in all likelihood be in Iraq very soon - deposits that will mature if the war on terror moves to East Asia.

The bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel is only the most recent example of the instability and terror radical Islamic groups like Jemaah Islamiah are able to cause in Indonesia. Given Japan's growing apprehension in becoming involved in every US operation in its war on terror, and the rest of Asia's uneasiness with a stronger Japanese military, further instability and either direct US intervention or closer cooperation with the Indonesian Military, could put Japan between a rock and a hard place. By participating in Iraq now, Japan can politely decline to offer troops in any hostile situation that may develop in Indonesia, thus, avoiding stirring up bitterness from the past with its neighbors but still having supported the US. Putting away for the future is never easy, better to invest now than pay the higher costs and risks later. The writing is on the wall in Indonesia, the question is whether the Japanese government is able to read it in time.

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