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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #91: April 9, 2003

Japan Flexible on the UN Role in Iraq

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)

Newspaper reports stemming from Japan indicate that Japanese leaders are about to engage in a diplomatic offensive aimed at convincing the unconvinced to take an active role in the reconstruction of Iraq. The government will send its foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi to Britain, France and Germany this week while Yukio Okamoto, an advisor to the Koizumi Cabinet, will visit countries neighboring Iraq. According to the Yomiuri newspaper, both trips seek to "sound out the possibility of Japan playing a role of transatlantic coordination between the US and EU countries that are at odds". The key issue will center on the role of the United Nations in post-conflict Iraq. As it stands today, even the US's closest ally, the United Kingdom, is suspicious about the secrecy and evasiveness demonstrated by the United States government on its vision of the UN in Iraq. As the war intensifies, the US has quietly set up an "interim authority" headed by retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner, that will rule Iraq until an international coalition can be put into place. The likelihood of which is uncertain.

Considering the dominant mood in Europe and in the Middle East, these Japanese diplomats will have a hard time playing the coordinating role they seek. After having witnessed the US government question the credibility of the United Nations on the issue of inspections, crucify France and Germany for taking a no-war stance and promote a huge split in EU policy towards the war, the prevailing mood in Europe is one of frustration and mistrust. Reports on civilian casualties, human suffering and destruction from independent journalists in Baghdad, rarely reflected in US news, has even caused anger amongst some towards the US military and its government. Furthermore, news of increased civil strife and unrest in cities such as Basra and Nasariya are being viewed as the beginning of what would meet an occupation of Iraq.

Fears are also rising in neighboring countries as they watch civilians suffer. A leading Iranian newspaper called Hamshahri wondered whether an authority far worse than the Ba'ath Party would rise to power after Saddam. Egypt's leading daily the Al-Ahram called for Arab nations to "make extra efforts in the international arena to end the war… and strengthen international fronts against US policies and … condemn US hostilities against Iraq". The consequences of not doing so were unthinkable. Aiding a US administration in post-war Iraq was simply out of the question.

Japan, which has long espoused a UN centric foreign policy but rarely implemented it, will not find it hard to support US plans for post-war Iraq. Japan is unlikely to play a political role and will merely donate hundreds of millions of dollars for reconstruction, food and medical supplies. If a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution is passed implying a "central" UN role, there is the possibility that Japan would send Self Defense Forces to police Iraq. However, judging from the language used by the Bush administration, which has intentionally refrained from stating that the UN will play a "central" and, therefore, a political role in Iraq, a UNSC resolution will not come easily.

The US failed to create a coalition to fight the war. If it continues to marginalize the United Nations, the international community, and above all dictate the will of the Iraqi people, a post-war coalition will not materialize either. This will spell disaster not only for Iraq but also for the Middle East, the United Nations and for the United States. Considering the coming thrusts for power in the Shiite and Kurdish communities and the internal power struggles that we will witness among rival groups made up of exiles and their former enemies in Baghdad following the war, the United States will be incapable of handling all post-conflict security needs in Iraq. Neither will it be able to deal effectively with the humanitarian disaster that is already plaguing the country. Furthermore, in the absence of a UN led process of Iraqi self-government, the new "authority" will be unable to project a sense of "legitimacy" to its own people and those in the region. This will corrupt all sectors of the government including the judiciary, whose judgements will be viewed as justice imposed by the occupier.

The Koizumi government's decision to commit to the reconstruction of Iraq and serve as a "coordinator" between the US and other countries at odds with the Bush administration sends a clear signal to the rest of the world. Namely, that Japan is rather flexible on the issue of a central UN role and, therefore, will not act to prevent the demise of the United Nations into a purely humanitarian organ. Judging from the behavior exhibited by the Koizumi administration, his cabinet seems relatively comfortable with the idea of an unrestricted unipolar world, so long as it remains in the US government's good books. Considering the fall out that this policy will have on domestic, regional and international politics, I wonder whether Koizumi is prepared to deal with the long-term consequences of his policy. The likely answer is that he hasn't considered the long term implications, rather, like most politicians, his horizon is fixed on re-election.

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