Why Japan should not send the SDF to Iraq
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The Japanese government is trying to find some way to send Japan's Self Defense Force (SDF) personnel to Iraq with the objective of "helping" in the reconstruction effort. This week's media review presents two major reasons why Japan should not dispatch troops to Iraq. The arguments are based on issues that have gained increasing media attention over the past week, which cast doubt on the wisdom of Koizumi's wish to "show the flag" in Iraq.
The two reasons why Japan should refrain from sending the SDF to Iraq are:
1. The legitimacy of the US/British led occupation of Iraq is in question;
2. Japanese SDF personnel will be forced to deal with hostile situations because there are no "safe areas" in Iraq.
The legitimacy of Iraq's occupation is not only challenged by the fact that the US-led invasion of Iraq lacked UN backing, was opposed by most countries in the world and had suspect motives (oil, reconstruction contracts), but primarily because of the notion that the main "justification" for war against Iraq – weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – may have been fabricated. Time magazine reports that there is a growing controversy over the validity of evidence claiming that Saddam Hussein was "poised to use WMD at a moments notice". Scotland's Sunday Herald claims that British Prime Minister Tony Blair chose to believe "selective and defective" information from the Pentagon instead of British intelligence sources which suggested that "there was effectively no real evidence of a WMD program in Iraq". Furthermore, the Guardian and the US News and World Report have shed light on a meeting between Jack Straw and Colin Powell, prior to Powell's famous UN presentation, in which both expressed "serious doubts about the quality of intelligence" claiming that Iraq had WMDs (See Tom Regan, "WMD: Controversy over pre-war WMD evidence grows", Christian Science Monitor, 1 June, 2003).
These suspicions are currently being backed by the very individuals who spun the story in the first place. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations (27 May) that Iraq may have destroyed WMD's before the war. His subordinate, Paul Wolfowitz has tried to play down the importance of WMD (Vanity Fair, June 2003). In response, the US House Select Committee on Intelligence has formally asked the CIA to respond to a series of questions in order to prove that it did not "exaggerate what it knew" as has been suggested in the media. Jane Harman, the senior Democrat (Texas) on the committee has publicly stated that the forgery could "conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time. … It was the moral justification for the war. It think the world is owed an accounting" (AFP). British sentiment has moved in the same direction. The British Parliament is calling for an inquiry into whether their Prime Minister, Tony Blair, lied to them and the public in order to go to war. An unnamed British minister recently told the Independent that, "the failure to find WMD in Iraq would constitute Britain's biggest ever intelligence failure" (AFP, 30 May 2003).
US President Bush tried to brush off these fundamentally important questions this past week when he told a reporter in Poland that the US had "found biological laboratories", and went on to insist that the US would find more. The fact of the matter is that no traces of chemical or biological materials have been found in the two mobile laboratories that Bush was referring to and even if they were, we would have to ask ourselves the question as to whether two mobile laboratories justify an invasion, thousands of deaths (both Iraqi citizens and US/British soldiers) and the occupation of Iraq? The burden of proof is on the US and the UK to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime, through WMDs, posed an imminent threat to world security.
Bush and Blair also need to provide answers to the international community for challenging a corner stone of our global order, the UN and international law. Since the outset of this conflict, the US challenged the "credibility of the UN" when it came to Iraqi disarmament. This began with Bush's speech at the UN on 13 September 2002 and continued until the Azores Summit on the 16 March 2003 when Jose Maria Aznar, Tony Blair and George W. Bush stated that, "Saddam's defiance of UNSC resolutions demanding the disarmament of his nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range missile capability has led to sanctions on Iraq and has undermined the authority of the UN".
Considering the above and in the absence of any evidence supporting "coalition" claims that Iraq, through its WMD's, posed an imminent threat to global security, it would be irresponsible and unjustifiable for the Japanese government to dispatch troops to Iraq in support of the occupation.
In terms of the second reason, news reports stemming from Japan (Yomiuri, Asahi) indicate that the Japanese government is considering sending SDF personnel to "safe areas" in Iraq for logistical support to US and British forces. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the "safe area" concept would allow the SDF to take part in the administration of Iraq without the Diet having to relax restrictions on weapon use by the SDF. The Yomiuri Shimbun indicates that the government is dispatching a fact-finding team this week in order to determine where these "safe areas" are.
However, a survey of international media reports on the situation of Iraq provides a very clear picture. In a recent article, the profoundly experience British journalist Robert Fisk reports that US troops are afraid to go out at night (31 May, the Independent). Fisk reflects a reality that is increasingly dangerous. According to him, as is the case in Afghanistan today, no one is safe in Iraq. The climate seems to be worsening as anger builds up against the occupation authorities. In addition to the daily dosage of violence aimed primarily at US soldiers (5 US troops killed last week by ‘hostile' fire), Iraqi residents are rising up against what they view as US-UK imperialism. In Basra there were protests against British control of the city after a British commander was installed as the city's defacto leader. 5,000 Iraqi demonstrators marched against this motion with signs that read, "no to British rule over Basra" and "we can rule ourselves". As Lieutenant General David McKiernan (US commander of ground troops in Iraq) has stated, "the war is not over", coalition forces are still fighting (Tom Regan ,Christian Science Monitor, 1 June 2003). The fact that the fact-finding team will find is that there is no "safe area" in Iraq.
Japanese leaders such as Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba have couched the idea of an SDF dispatch to Iraq as Japan's "contribution to the international community in accordance with its natural strength" (Yomiuri, 2 June). Considering the high level of instability in Iraq, I doubt whether the SDF will be able to make a contribution to post-invasion Iraq that is in accordance with Japan's obligation and potential as the world's second most powerful economy. Instead, Japan would likely have a much more positive impact if it were to dedicate its resources to civilian reconstruction and humanitarian activity in Iraq independently of the occupying authority. Millions of Iraqis remain without electricity, running water, medical attention and food. Industries need assistance to get back to working order, schools need rebuilding and farmers require equipment. In these circumstances, Japan would be better off leaving the SDF at home and contributing to peace and reconstruction in a manner that truly helps the Iraqi people.