Japan in Iraq: a Dangerous Proposition
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker Jr., published an article in the International Herald Tribune on 12 January which reviewed the past year and tried to put the future of U.S.-Japan relations into a global context. The result, in my opinion, was an erroneous reading of the past and a dangerous indication of what is to come.
The Ambassador started his piece by throwing some candy to a Japanese people who are being forced to swallow a bitter pill. Prime Minister Koizumi and his ruling coalition has decided to go ahead with the dispatch of approximately 1,000 troops from the Self Defense Force (SDF) to Iraq in the coming months, a policy to which approximately eighty percent of the population are strongly opposed. In an attempt to ease this discontent and perhaps prevent it from affecting policy, Howard Baker proudly exclaimed that the two countries must "share both risks and rewards." Unfortunately for Baker and his friends in Japan, while the risks of sending troops to Iraq are well known the rewards are nowhere in sight. Already two Japanese have fallen casualty to an occupied state that is out of control and being torn apart by rivaling elements. These join hundreds of American soldiers and other foreign nationals who have lost their lives pursuing rewards sold to them by a Bush administration that is more concerned about its re-election than any other matter.
Contrary to what Baker describes as the current Japan ("the region's anchor, a world power, a sovereign state"), Prime Minister Koizumi's refusal to listen to the will of his people has put in question Japan's legacy as a leading democratic voice in Asia; its commitment to oppose wars of aggression; and its ability to implement an independent foreign policy. Not surprisingly, Baker recognizes the fallacy of his assertions when he justifies compromising democracy by stating that, "we live in a hard world and need to make many hard decisions. The harder those decisions are, the more people will disagree with you." He later justifies Japan's acquiescence to U.S. wishes that go against the majority Japanese opinion by stressing that, "all of our interests are related. Our economic health, our public health, our security environment and our natural environment, all are joined together, and our fates are intertwined."
While the fate of the globe and particularly those of the Japanese and American soldiers in Iraq may be "intertwined", the interests of the two countries as specified by Baker, in many instances, are not. U.S. economic interests most often exclude and erode Japanese concerns. The past year has witnessed plethora of trade controversies ranging from steel tariffs and currency debates to deregulation. Most recently, U.S. economic concerns have been lobbying Japan to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports that have been put in place in reaction to the discovery of B.S.E. Ultimately, these agents view U.S. economic interests as more important than the issue of Japanese public health.
When it comes to Japan's security environment there do exist common threats such as North Korea and the trafficking in humans and drugs, however, Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction were never one of them. At no time was Japan a target of Iraqi hostility nor was it vulnerable to oil sanctions. Japan has hardly relied on Iraqi oil since 1991. In fact, it could be argued that Japan's security predicament has become worse ever since Koizumi pledged to send troops to Iraq. Concern about terrorist attacks has recently prompted the Japanese government to set up a Counter-Terrorism Team and it has repeatedly sent out travel advisories that try to instill a sense of fear in a Japanese population that has for so long been characterized as one "dazed by peace" (heiwa boke).
Finally, as far as the natural environment is concerned, there exists no clearer indication of contradictory positions than the opposing stances taken by Japan and the U.S. in regards to the Kyoto Protocol. U.S. national interests stand in stark contrast to Japan's when it comes to the environment.
These mismatches in "national interest" between Japan and the U.S. are further compounded by the fact that U.S. insistence on SDF participation in Iraq represents a conscious attempt to revise the very fabric of Japan's post-war constitution and the pacific principles upon which Japanese society has functioned since its defeat in 1945. The Xinhua news agency (January 14) and the Edmonton Journal (January 12) have reported that Prime Minister Koizumi is aiming to revise parts of the constitution that ban the maintenance and use of military force by Japan. The idea is to revise the constitution by 2005, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Liberal Democratic Party. In his article, Ambassador Howard Baker Jr. states that he and his country are encouraged by Japan's constitutional debate. This should come as no surprise as the U.S. has been urging Japan to engage on such a path since the early 1950's. In fact, witnessing the discomfort that the Japanese feel towards the apparent contradiction between the pacific constitution and the SDF deployment to Iraq, a debate should be encouraged. Unfortunately, it appears as though PM Koizumi is trying to pre-empt the debate by putting lightly armed and severely restricted Japanese troops in terms of self-defense in the line of fire in Iraq. If troops die as a result of their inability to defend themselves adequately, the Japanese will have no choice but to revoke the peace constitution. This will effectively kill the debate.
Another alarming development is the Japanese government's announcement to partially lift the ban on arms exports in order to take part in a joint missile defense program with the U.S. Strikingly, the head of Japan's Defense Agency, Shigeru Ishiba, has even pushed for a total removal of the ban. It should be disconcerting to hear Japan talk about exporting weapons in a world so concerned with the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the proliferation of small arms.
The bottom line is that, in opposition to what Baker and Koizumi may assert, Japan's national interests are not being served by going to war in Iraq. To the contrary, Japan's independence, security, moral fiber, historical legacy and leadership role in Asia is being shoved aside for a self-serving agenda dominated by right-wing hawks who see domination through the threat and use of force as the only guarantor of peace and security.