Japan Should Learn From US Experience in the Middle East
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
Japan's recent deployment of troops to the Middle East has many observers focused on the nation's hard, or in this case military, power. After having spent half-a-century in the shadow of Japan's economic and cultural presence, very few outside of Japan are familiar with Japan's armed forces. Now that Japanese "soldiers" are operating in two Middle Eastern theatres of war (Afghanistan and Iraq), much more attention is being placed on analyzing this previously rather invisible aspect of Japanese power. Newspaper articles outlining Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces (army: GSDF) by unit and equipment have hit the stands ("Snapshot of Japan's Army", Agence France Press, 26 January 2004) and American generals are praising Japan's military contribution to the US-led "war on terror". As the GSDF begins its mission in Iraq all eyes will be focused on how well they perform in a climate of fear, hunger, hope and uncertainty. However, contrary to expectations, Japanese troops are less likely to rely on sources of coercion and enforcement (hard power) and instead will make use of enticements (soft power) to attract Iraqis into cooperating with their authority. This strategy is thought to be the most prudent for an occupying force that is constitutionally forbidden to use force. However, if unaccompanied by the lessons certain Japanese opinion-makers have learnt from the American experience in the battle for "hearts and minds" in Iraq, Japanese forces may find themselves caught in a quagmire.
Professor Masayuki Yamauchi of Tokyo University stresses the need for Japan to combine hard and soft power in the Middle East in order to be effective in the fight against terrorism. In an article entitled "Soft Power and Japan's Middle East Policy" (Nihon no Chuto Seisaku to Sofuto Pawa, Ronza, January 2004), Yamauchi says that, "what is indispensable in the debate over the propriety of sending the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq is thoughtful consideration of how to connect and strike a balance between the soft power of Japan's Middle East policy on the one hand and the humanitarian and reconstruction activities conducted by the SDF and Japanese civilians on the other". He further notes that over the years Japan has made an effort to promote trust through soft power initiatives such as the Japan-Arab Dialogue Forum, the Japan-Middle East Cultural Exchanges and Dialogue Mission and the Dialogue Among Civilizations Between Japan and the Islamic World, all of which were held in the fall of 2003.
A key element in Professor Yamauchi's logic is the emphasis on dialogue and exchanges in order to promote mutual trust instead of the traditional incentive of money through Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). Professor Yamauchi's vision also does not promote the imposition of Japanese "values" on the Arab world, rather it promotes a mutual exchange. This conception is what many Japanese scholars, particularly those specialized in the Middle East, have learnt from American failures in the region. These academics have recognized that the violent rejection of America in the Middle East has as much to do with its military and political presence as with the imposition of its values through capitalism, cultural products and development programs.
Despite Yamauchi's wise counseling, however, recent reports indicate that the Japanese government may be ignoring this lesson and is instead planning to use Japanese soft power, primarily ODA, to prevent potential sources of opposition to its military presence from surfacing. To this end, the Japanese government has announced that the GSDF deployment is only the first phase in a long-term commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq. The second phase will bring investment and the third prosperity.
The plan may sound encouraging to some. It certainly, follows in the US tradition of building up expectations by extending the American dream overseas. It also promotes Arab hopes for the transplanting of Japan's supposed "miraculous" formula for postwar reconstruction so widely promoted in the 1960s and 70s. Nevertheless, in light of the fact that there are no local Iraqi councils in Samawah with which to coordinate Japanese "reconstruction" plans, dialogue seems to be out of the question. As a consequence, Japan's strategy, as it stands today, seems to stress the use of soft power to quell any opposition to its presence that may exist. However, judging from America's experience, I would argue that unless efforts are made to engage in meaningful power sharing with the local population through dialogue and exchange the Japanese government and its troops on the ground will be met with the kind of frustration that results from being marginalized by outsiders in ones own home.