Interpreting the Decision to Dispatch the Aegis
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Last week the Japanese government decided to send an Aegis equipped destroyer to the Indian Ocean as part of its "enhanced" support measures for the U.S. led "war on terrorism". This military technology, which only two other countries are said to possess (U.S. and Spain), represents the most sophisticated contribution by the Japanese government and has been a focus of intense debate ever since Japan passed the Anti-terrorism Law following 11 September 2001. This week's media review traces the reaction of the international media towards this unprecedented deployment.
The overwhelming interpretation from news agencies and newspapers is that the decision to send the Aegis-equipped naval vessel to the Indian Ocean was a move that "signaled Tokyo's tacit backing for a possible U.S. attack on Iraq" (Singapore Straits Times, 6 December). In essence, very few regard this move as an increased commitment to the "war on terrorism" taking place primarily in Afghanistan but rather as a step enabling the U.S. to attack Iraq. The main reason for this interpretation stems from the fact that the decision followed intense pressure from Washington.
That this move was made to free up the U.S. for a possible attack on Iraq was most evident in Japan's rush to make a decision before the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage came to Japan for an Asian tour beginning 8 December. According to the Singapore Straits Times, Reuters and the Associated Press, the focus of Armitage's trip is not on Afghanistan but on Iraq (see articles below). Quoting a diplomatic expert named Takahiko Yamamoto the SST reported that "Japan has climbed on the bandwagon of America's strategy towards Iraq". This coupled with reports indicating that Japanese officials were mulling "enhanced" support for the U.S. in case of a war in Iraq drew a clear correlation between Japan's decision to send the Aegis and Washington's plans to bomb Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein (Eric Talmadge, AP, 6 December). In essence, no body is buying the official Japanese explanation that the Aegis equipped destroyer is being deployed to beef up the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan as was stressed by Japan's defense chief last week (AP, 4 December (below)).
That the U.S. has shifted its focus from hunting Bin Laden down and destroying al-Qaida to Iraq is already an Issue of intense debate. In addition to this, however, there are voices that stress the need for a greater commitment to extinguishing the threat from North Korea (Suzanne Goldenberg and Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, 5 December). They insist that the threat posed by North Korea is much more immediate than Iraq.
This brings us to Eric Talmadge's article in the Associated Press, which documented a study being considered by the Japanese government on a possible role for troops and aid in a postwar Iraq (6 December). According to this report Japan is "mulling whether to dispatch personnel to help Washington rebuild Iraq if its leader, Saddam Hussein, is ousted". Apparently this includes plans for economic and humanitarian assistance as well as funding for refugee-related operations.
Considering Japan's proximity to North Korea and the fact that North Korea has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons it is clear that Iraq should not be a priority at this point in time. Nevertheless, Japanese officials insist on finding alternative ways to support the U.S. mission against Iraq while they leave the problem of North Korea essentially untouched.
A war in Iraq and Japan's reported intention to contribute in a humanitarian manner seems premature in light of the fact that neither Japan nor the international community at large has been able to respond adequately to the needs in Afghanistan. Countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. are worried about a potential military over-stretch as they contemplate the possibility of fighting on two fronts (Afghanistan, Iraq). However, aid organizations are already faced with a humanitarian over-stretch. The world simply cannot deal with another disaster.
Over the past decade Japan has been all too eager to erase its Gulf War (1991) legacy that accuses Japan of having paid its way out of obligations. The question is how long does this factor have to remain a determinant in Japanese foreign and security policy? How long can Japan justify tacit support for U.S. plans against Iraq in the name of increased visibility? And how long can Japan and the U.S. continue to ignore the humanitarian and security threat posed by North Korea? The answer to all of the above is no longer. The world, including Japan, must restrain U.S. ambitions towards Iraq and refocus on the most pressing security issues.
- "Koizumi defends dispatch of warship", Singapore Straits Times, 6 December 2002
- Eric Talmadge, "Japan studying possible role for troops, aid in postwar Iraq, reports", The Associated Press, 6 December 2002
- Suzanne Goldenberg and Jonathan Watts, "As the US prepares for war, far away a truly dangerous game is being played out", The Guardian, 5 December 2002
- "Japan to send Aegis-equipped destroyer to Indian Ocean in support of war on terror", The Associated Press, 4 December 2002
- "Japan Denies Beefing Up U.S. Support in Afghanistan", Reuters, 1 December 2002
- "Japan May Send Ships to Support U.S. Forces - Newspaper", Reuters, 30 November 2002