Japan forgotten on US list naming contributors to the 'war against terrorism'
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
An important diplomatic blunder went largely unreported this week as the Pentagon forgot to include Japan's name in a list of 26 allies that have contributed to the campaign against terrorism. For the Japanese government, this was the sequel to "the nightmare of Japan's forgotten contribution to the 1991 Gulf War". Surprisingly enough, there was minimum media coverage of this blunder as the only major foreign news source covering this mistake seems to have been the Associated Press. Perhaps it was the expedient crisis management of the US Department of Defense that averted this painful blunder from becoming a larger issue of concern. Nevertheless, it was an omission that Japan had sought to prevent ever since it had been called upon to contribute forces to the war in Afghanistan.
Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press took up this story on Friday March 1 and according to her article the actual blunder happened a few days earlier. The article followed a high profile announcement made by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfield who issued a list of countries collaborating with the US in the effort against terrorism. Rumsfield was hoping that the list would illustrate that the campaign had wide international support. The countries named by Rumsfield were: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Romania, Russia, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. Obviously left out was Japan.
As Jelinek reported, the omission of Japan's name struck a sour note for the Japanese government. After September 11, Japan's government responded immediately to the US request for support in its "war against terrorism". In fact, Japan made a historic decision to dispatch armed SDF troops and warships overseas for the first time since WWII. The decision was by no means easy as it touched a sensitive nerve among neighboring Asian states that have long feared Japan's rearmament. However, one of the main arguments in favor of "showing the flag" in the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban was to avert the disgrace that befell Japan in 1991 when its name was left off a full-page advertisement paid for by the government of Kuwait and published in the New York Times to thank coalition members for their contribution to the war against Iraq. At that time Japan had given roughly $10 billion to help cover the costs of the Gulf war.
Realizing the gravity of their omission, most likely only after receiving protests from Japanese diplomats, the Pentagon issued a revised list the following day, which included Japan's name. It also held a press conference on Friday March 1 giving special mention to the contribution of Asian nations, in particular Japan, to the war in Afghanistan.
Without admitting their mistake publicly the spokeswoman for the Department of Defense Victoria Clark highlighted Japan's contribution by saying, "I want to call your attention to Japan. Japan has put together a very comprehensive package of support to help the United States and the rest of the world combat terrorism." She went on to specify that Japan has dispatched three destroyers and two supply ships to the Indian Ocean, where they are refueling at-sea U.S. and British naval vessels at their own expense. About half of Japan's C-130s and U-4 aircraft are also providing airlift support. She went on to explain that "though they aren't involved in combat, the deployment was a big move for Japan — its first deployment to help forces in combat since the end of World War II."
Despite a rapid response on the part of the Department of Defense to add Japan's name to the list, the fact that Japan's name was left out of the original announcement made by Rumsfield sent a shock to Japanese diplomats that will not be easily forgotten.
- Pauline Jelinek, " Pentagon Praises Japan After Blunder", The Associated Press, March 1, 2002.