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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #49: July 24, 2003

Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War:
Part Four - Opinions about Dispatching Japanese Troops to Postwar Iraq

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

It is now almost three months since President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and declared that the second Iraq war was over. Since then Japan has made the momentous decision to dispatch troops to assist with the reconstruction effort in the war-ravaged country. How has Japanese public opinion changed since the main phase of the military campaign ended and what does the public think about sending Japanese military personnel to Iraq?

A series of recent opinion polls suggest that anti-war sentiment is still fairly strong, but has weakened from the levels recorded before the war. A July 2003 Mainichi poll found that 60% of Japanese consider the Iraq war was "illegitimate." This compares with 26% who believe that the conflict was a "just cause."

In the build up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Japanese public opinion was strongly anti-war with roughly 80% of the population opposing conflict. However, polls also indicated that the majority of people were far more concerned about the threat posed by North Korea, Japan's unpredictable and bellicose neighbor. Deep anxiety over North Korea's military intensions enabled Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to largely ignore public sentiment and staunchly support the U.S. stance on Iraq.

New public opinion data about sending Japanese troops to assist in postwar reconstruction reveals that anti-war feeling still remains quite strong. An opinion survey conducted at the beginning of July for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper showed that only 19% of people support the proposed deployment of Japanese troops. Those who stated that they were against the government's decision to send troops stood at 38%, which was double the number of those who supported the idea. However, the largest segment of public opinion consisted of those who responded "don't know," which represented 39% of the total.

In mid-July, Japan's national broadcaster (NHK) conducted a survey on support for the draft law on Iraq, which will enable troops to be dispatched to the country. The results showed that 43% supported the law, while 48% opposed it. This appears to be a better result for the government than the Mainichi poll, but probably indicates that that the public associates the draft law with a wider set of issues than simply troop deployments to Iraq.

In the NHK poll, of the 43% who supported the bill, the following reasons were given (i) 37% said that since Japan supported the war, it is only logical that it should support the reconstruction of postwar Iraq; (ii) 34% thought that since the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) already had experience of peace keeping operations, they were suitable for such duties in Iraq; and (iii) 6% stated that it was OK to send the SDF to Iraq because they will only be operating in non-combat zones.

Of the 48% who opposed the bill, the reasons for not supporting it broke down as follows (i) 69% thought that it was difficult to separate combat zones from non-combat zones; (ii) 17% said it was problematic for the SDF to support the US as an occupying power; and (iii) 11% stated that private organizations should help Iraq and not the government.

Both the Mainichi poll and the NHK surveys show that the majority of people are against sending Japanese troops to Iraq. Since the Mainichi poll specifically asked about troop dispatches, it would appear that there is wide-spread unease about this particular issue. However, so far the troop deployment topic has not become a major issue with the electorate and the approval ratings of Prime Minister Koizumi remain high.

In the next article in this series, the postwar reasons why people oppose and support the war will be examined in detail.

Other articles in the Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War Series

Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War Part One: Japanese Anti-War Sentiment on Iraq in Accord with Global Opinion
Social Trends: Series #28, GLOCOM Platform, 24 February 2003

Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War Part Two: Japanese Anti-War Sentiment Reaches New Heights
Social Trends: Series #29, GLOCOM Platform, 5 March 2003

Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War Part Three: Koizumi Coming under Pressure over Iraq Policy
Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 10 March 2003

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