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Japan's Hidden Agenda In Iraq

by William O. Beeman

Japan Sending Troops To Iraq
(PNS) -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, with Bush administration support, is pursuing a dangerous political course. By committing his nation to military involvement in Iraq, he's trying to end one of the last vestiges of World War II -- the prohibition against Japanese military action on foreign soil.

His effort is problematic on many fronts. Most seriously, it paves the way for Japanese military action against North Korea.

Koizumi fought fiercely for parliament's approval of a bill that would "allow the dispatch of troops from the Japanese Self Defense Forces" to Iraq for peacekeeping operations.

In late July, after fierce public outcry, Koizumi back-pedaled, pointing out that the bill "is not one that requires the sending of Self-Defense's a bill that allows the dispatch of the SDF."

On July 31, a delegation of Japanese lawmakers was dispatched to Iraq to assess whether it is safe enough for Japanese forces.

For most other nations, a troop deployment abroad would be uncontroversial. But for Japan, it will be the first since World War II, except for UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations. It has, therefore, an enormous symbolic meaning for the Japanese.

For much of the Japanese public, militarism is the hallmark of the ultra-nationalism that fueled Japanese involvement in World War II. The Japanese state embodied reverential loyalty to the Emperor, who was considered sacred. The "Samurai ethic" demanded military readiness in support of both.

After the war, the United States made Japan adopt a constitution that renounced this militarism, establishing a Self Defense Force that would never be used for any aggressive military purpose. The constitution states in Article 9: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes...Land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

The Japanese right wing, still an important force in the nation's political life, has never accepted this provision. It is anxious to see Japan build up its military strength as part of a general restoration of Japanese imperial greatness. An equally dedicated left wing opposes militarization. The left has been dominant in recent years, and its opposition to anything that even hints at extending the power of the military or reviving militarist sentiment has cost many prime ministers their jobs.

To be sure, in 1992, Japan did pass new legislation to allow Japanese troops to join UN peacekeeping operations. It sent some 1,200 soldiers to Cambodia, the first dispatch of Japanese troops abroad since the end of World War II. This deployment is different in two ways, however. First, Japanese troops may actually see combat in Iraq -- a clear violation of the constitution. Second, the operation in Iraq is not sanctioned by the United Nations, the important difference that allowed the 1992 deployments.

Why then, has Prime Minister Koizumi taken this dangerous political course?

First, Japan today is not the Japan of 20 years ago. The economic bubble has burst, and the economy is ailing. That is the dominant worry for most Japanese voters.

Nothing is more important for resource-starved Japan than a reliable source of energy. Japan already gets about half of its energy resources from the Gulf region, and was a big buyer of Iraqi oil in years past. Japanese companies invested heavily in oil facilities in the region.

Reconstruction contracts in Iraq could go a long way toward aiding the Japanese economy. A small investment in military operations could yield great benefits in the future in terms of access both to oil and to those lucrative construction contracts.

The United States, desperate to show the occupation of Iraq as a "coalition" effort, would welcome and likely reward Japan's participation.

But further down the road, should tensions increase between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korean nuclear development, Japan would be well-placed to commit troops to the Korean peninsula, having already breached its longstanding practice of not committing troops abroad.

The BBC reported on March 14 that Japan had warned it would launch a pre-emptive military action against North Korea if it had firm evidence Pyongyang was planning a missile attack. On March 28, Japan launched its first spy satellites. Koreans, both North and South, are already raising alarms at the possibility of Japan attacking the Korean peninsula.

The Bush administration has voiced strong approval for Koizumi's actions. However, it remains unclear how the United States will deal diplomatically with other East Asian nations should there be a remilitarized Japan. As in Korea, memories of Japanese military atrocities in World War II are still alive. Washington, in encouraging Japan's increased military action, may think it has helped some short-term problems. But it may have bought a great deal of trouble down the line.

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Albion Monitor August 6, 2003 (

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