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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #85: February 25, 2003

What 'fuels' Japan's support for US plans in Iraq?

John de Boer (GLOCOM Platform)

Much research and speculation has gone into uncovering the motives that drive the Bush administration's desire for a war with Iraq. Apart from the oft-stated official reason (to rid Saddam Hussein of Weapons of Mass Destruction), "oil" tops the list as one of the most obvious reasons behind Bush's bellicose plans. Despite insistence, on the part of US officials that oil has nothing to do with it, there is no hiding the fact that the Bush administration has extensive ties with the oil industry. It is also no secret that the US is projected to double its consumption of oil over the next two decades during which its own domestic production is expected to fall by 12% (See: National Energy Policy Development Group, "Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sustainable for America's Future", Washington: US Gov't Printing Office, May 2001, p. 84). Tapping into Iraq's vast oil reserves (estimated at over 200 billion barrels by most sources) would be one way of satisfying US consumer needs. It simply cannot be denied that oil is one of the factors that convinced the Bush administration in favor of taking out Saddam Hussein and installing a "friendly" government.

In contrast to the active debate on-going regarding US motives for the war, very little is being discussed on the reason behind the Japanese government's open support for the US and its bid for a second UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that would sanction war in Iraq. A virtual consensus has emerged as to the raison d'etre behind Koizumi's stance. Namely, that Japan must support the US in order to maintain and if possible strengthen the US-Japan alliance. Some have gone so far as to state that Japan has "no choice" but to do so in light of this alliance (see Weekly Media Review #84).

However, considering that Japan is the number one oil importer from the Middle East wouldn't the same "oil" argument stand to explain at least part of why Japan has "no option" but to support the US? Japanese susceptibility to unstable oil markets is proven (1973 oil-shock). In anticipation of a war in Iraq, Japanese manufacturers have already warned that rising shipping costs, due to oil price hikes and route changes, will affect their exports (see Time Kelly, "In Japan, exporters fear war", International Herald Tribune, 24 February 2003).

Nevertheless, while most speculate that rising oil prices will sky rocket to between $40/barrel to $80/barrel depending on how long the war lasts, these prices are expected to fall to lower than the $25/barrel baseline price set by OPEC after the war. If Iraq's vast oil potential can be met, oil specialists including the US Department of Energy argue that Saudi Arabia would "no longer be the sole dominant producer, able to influence oil markets single handedly" (see Michael Renner, "The New Oil Order", Foreign Policy in Focus, 14 February, 2003). In such a scenario, Japan would be able to diversify its main sources of oil and mitigate price fluctuations. Furthermore, considering the fact that Iran, one of Japan's primary suppliers, is next on the list for the US as part of the "Axis of Evil", Japanese oil interests may consider it wise to shift their reliance on a producer that is "liked" by the US. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest supplier of oil, may no longer be one of them considering how US-Saudi relations have soured considerably after 9/11. By supporting the US in securing a submissive Iraq, Japan could gain a stable and cheap source of crude oil (it costs 97cents to produce a barrel of oil in Iraq as compared to $3-$4 in the North Sea and $20 in Texas).

For a country that spends a significant amount of its GDP on oil imports and relies on exports for over 30% of its revenues, securing a cheap and reliable source of oil could easily be one of the driving forces behind Koizumi's pro-war policy. Of course, there are no guarantees that a stable Iraq will emerge from the ashes of war. In fact, I have argued all along that a war in Iraq will provoke humanitarian, economic and political calamities. The UN has predicted that 1.26 million children will die from starvation as a result of the war; economists estimate that the war will cost the world economy at minimum $1 trillion; the Turks have requested US approval to invade northern Iraq in order to prevent the Kurds from seeking independence; and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sure to worsen with plans for a forced mass expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan already on Sharon's desk.

Japan is actively lobbying non-permanent UNSC members in an attempt to convince them to vote in favor of a second UN resolution (Weekly Media Review #84). It is time that we start scrutinizing Japan's motives for doing so just as the world has picked apart those of the Bush administration. It may well prove to be the case that Japan is more interested in exploiting Iraqi oil than is the United States.

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