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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #50: July 29, 2003

Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War:
Part Five - Postwar Opinions about the Iraq Conflict

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

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

Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, opinion polls showed that the vast majority of Japanese opposed military action. Just before hostilities commenced, opinion surveys were recording around 80% opposition. The swift taking of Baghdad and the subsequent ending of the main military campaign, somewhat soften public opinion. Recently polls have indicated that now about 60% of people oppose the war. However, Japan has recently enacted a law which allows its troops to be dispatched to Iraq to assist American forces there. Should Japanese troops sustain losses this will ignite latent anti-war sentiment and could cause serious political fallout for the government.

Despite very strong public opinion on the matter, the Iraq War has in many respects been a secondary issue in the minds of many Japanese. Worries about the intentions of a bellicose North Korea and its highly erratic leader have so far overshadowed concerns about Iraq. North Korea's recent stage-managed fiftieth anniversary celebrations for its supposed "victory" against America in the Korean War have only served to heighten the public's sense of fear. To most Japanese, the isolated and militaristic Stalinist state looks like it is preparing for a war that Japan will probably get sucked into. The anxiety caused by this has so far largely kept in check public disquiet about the government's strong support for U.S. military action in Iraq.

A series of newspaper polls conducted in July 2003 clearly illustrates unease over the Iraq issue with opposition to the war now standing at about 60%. The July Asahi Shimbun poll found that 60% of its respondents did not think that the war was legitimate. This was an increase of 3% from the June survey and may indicate rising skepticism about whether weapons of mass destruction will ever be found. The original justification for the war by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair was the urgent need to disarm Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of such weapons.

The July Mainichi Shimbun poll produced an identical result to the Asahi Shimbun survey with 60% stating that they consider the war to be "illegitimate." Only 26% thought military action was justified. Examining the Mainichi results more closely gives a better understanding of why the public is so against the military conflict.

Of the 60% who answered that the invasion was unjustified, 45% stated that this was because the war had not been sanctioned by the United Nations. A further 26% cited a failure of the occupying forces to introduce democracy to Iraq and 24% cited the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

As for the 26% who supported the attack, their justifications broke down as follows. A full 40% thought that the war was legitimate because Iraq broke U.N. resolutions. Just behind this view, 37% believed the war had been justified because it removed the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.

Despite strong opposition to the war, the popularity of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has not yet been adversely affected. In fact, his personal ratings have gone up since the conflict ended. Like Prime Minister John Howard in Australia, a skillful handling of the situation has enabled Koizumi to escape any serious political damage of the type that has engulfed British Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, this situation could easily change once Japanese military personnel are deployed in Iraq.

Elements hostile to the present American occupation of Iraq have indicated that Japanese forces will also be targeted for the same kind of guerrilla warfare that is currently being waged against American forces. Political worries about this appear to have already put back the timetable for the deployment of troops in Iraq. A forthcoming general election in early November would strongly suggest that no military personnel will be stationed in Iraq until late November at the earliest. It would be political suicide for the government to enter an election campaign while dead troops were returning home in body-bags.

The dispatching of troops to Iraq is a high risk strategy for Prime Minister Koizumi. Should Japanese military personnel sustain casualties, he could find himself in serious trouble. Once troops are on the ground, they will be at the mercy of how the situation develops. Additionally, should the current nuclear standoff with North Korea be resolved peacefully, this will refocus attention on Iraq and may further strengthen public opposition against the conflict.

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

Japanese Public Opinion on the Second Iraq War Part Four: Opinions about Dispatching Japanese Troops to Postwar Iraq
Social Trends: Series #49, GLOCOM Platform, 24 July 2003

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