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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #15: September 25, 2001

Before Japan Goes to War

John de Boer (University of Tokyo)

On Thursday, September 27th Japanese lawmakers will consider the adoption of a constitutional revision that will allow Japan to provide non-combatant and logistical support to the US military campaign against terrorism. The exact nature of this support remains unclear. Prime Minister Koizumi, other key government officials and SDF officers have indicated that in addition to medical services, intelligence, humanitarian aid, refugee assistance, fuel and food, Japan could end up dispatching warships equipped with Aegis air defense systems, AWAC surveillance planes and supply weapons and ammunition to US troops. In an interview with Fuji Television (Jiji Tsushin Sept. 22) Mr. Nakatani, the head of Japan's Self Defense Forces, indicated that the Prime Minister has already ordered that warships be readied for dispatch and, if needed, that AWACs were also ready to go. In response to whether Japan intended to supply weapons and ammunition, Nakatani replied, "there is no difference between supplying water or arms." If a revision constitutionalizing this type of military support was approved on Thursday it would push Japan's war-renouncing Article 9 close to extinction.

According to most international and domestic news sources these steps are being taken as a result of two factors: (1) US pressure and (2) what I call Japan's Gulf War Syndrome. Clay Chandler of the Washington Post reported (Sept. 20) that, "(revision) proposals were designed to dispel mounting overseas perceptions that Japan is an indecisive and unreliable ally, incapable of rallying behind even its most important strategic and economic benefactor." Japan's decision to consider this review also came in response to US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage's, order that, "Japan show its flag," and take a more visible international role in combating terrorism. Others said that this was a test of the Japan-US alliance and that if Japan did not cooperate in a manner acceptable to the US it would mean the end of the alliance. (See Robyn Lim, Daily Yomiuri, Sept. 22 and Japanese Ambassador Shuji Yanai in Clay Chandler, Washington Post Sept. 20). LDP lawmakers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and certain academics are particularly sensitive about a repeat of the "diplomatic blunder" that resulted from Japan's refusal to dispatch Self Defense Forces to the Gulf region in the aftermath of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. According to some, this has made Japan, "morally obliged to contribute in a more direct way to the fight against terrorism" (Clay Chandler, Washington Post Sept. 20, Toshi Maeda and Kanako Takahara, Japan Times, Sept. 21).

However, before Japan decides to go to war there are several important questions that need to be considered. What is this "War on Terrorism" that Japan is apparently supporting? What does logistical support really mean? And why does Japan have Article 9 in its constitution?

Despite President Bush calling for Osama Bin-Laden's body "dead or alive," the objectives of this "War on Terrorism" go far beyond Bin-Laden. The aim is to kill and destroy all individuals, organizations and states (so far identified as primarily Muslim extremists) that are engaged in or support terrorism. Although, the outrageous attacks of September 11, 2001 were terrorism and the culprits must be brought to justice, in this war against terrorism the US administration has failed to specify what terrorism is and what individuals, organizations and states it will target. If the definition were any person, organization or state that supports religious extremists, it would involve millions of people and could be a battle that lasts as long as did the war on Communism. Hundreds of organizations have mobilized millions of civilians towards liberation in the name of religion. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of Mindanao, Philippines is one example. The MILF has recently been identified as an organization that receives funding from Bin-Laden by the Japanese National Police Agency (Daily Yomiuri, September 22). Whether this is true remains to be seen. However, if such an organization is included in Bush's War on Terrorism, the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor, hungry, landless, displaced and oppressed people living in communities sympathetic to the MILF will be obliterated. The fact that this war will create a large-scale humanitarian tragedy implicating untold numbers of civilians is evident as UN agencies and governments, including Japan, pledge to provide support to the refugees who are forced from their homes by fighting. Is this a war that Japanese citizens want to contribute to?

If Japanese logistical support is to include intelligence gathering and the supplying of weapons and ammunition to US forces this means that Japan will be directly involved in identifying who gets killed and what gets destroyed, as well as providing the means for their murder and destruction. Is this how Japanese citizens want to contribute?

Finally, Japan's war-renouncing Article 9, which states that, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes," was adopted because violence and war brought nothing but destruction on Japan. Article 9 represents the most important lesson learnt from World War II, that arms will not lead to a solution. Have Japanese forgotten this already?

To some of us, Japan is already doing enough by hosting 47,000 US troops, untold numbers of fighters, warships, submarines and weapons of mass destruction that will form the core of this operation. It has committed $10 million dollars to aid the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and is ready to assist in whatever capacity possible to bring the criminals who perpetrated these attacks to justice. This should be a justice that does not cause the suffering and death of more innocent civilians, but punishes those who had anything to do with the heinous crimes.


  • Roy K. Akagawa, "SDF to play key role in aiding US action," Asahi Shimbun, September 20, 2001.
  • Robyn Lim, "Japan needs to balance risks in supporting US action," The Daily Yomiuri, September 22, 2001.
  • "NPA says Islamic terrorists active in Asia," The Daily Yomiuri, September 22, 2001.
  • "Positive stance towards sending AWACs and supplying arms - Anticipating what the US wants," Jiji Tsushin, September 22, 2001.
  • Kazunori Takada, "Japan PM to Meet Bush, Pledge Full Support," Reuters, September 21, 2001.
  • Toshi Maeda and Kanako Takahara, "Japan must avoid treading Gulf War path," September 21, 2001.
  • Clay Chandler, "Koizumi Vows to Seek Wider Role for Troops," The Washington Post, September 20, 2001.
  • Howard W. French, "Japan's PM Pledges Support for American Retaliation," The New York Times, September 19, 2001.
  • Hans Greimel, "Japan Urges Support for US," The Associated Press, September 18, 2001.

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