Clarify ‘self-defense’ role

July 6th 2004

The government decided recently to keep Self-Defense Force troops stationed in Iraq as participants in the multinational force following the handover of sovereignty. I support this decision. One reason the decision has been criticized is that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a procedural faux pas in promising U.S. President George W. Bush a continued SDF presence without consulting the Diet first. Another reason is that, if SDF troops remain under the “unified command” of the multinational force, they could find it difficult to refuse orders that go beyond Japanese constitutional restraints.

In my view, these are hairsplitting arguments. The primary aim of the SDF dispatch to Iraq is to maintain and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. To be sure, there are other important aims, such as promoting international cooperation and supporting the humanitarian effort in Iraq. The decision to send military personnel abroad cannot be taken lightly by any nation. In Japan’s case, the dispatch is based primarily on the national strategy of bolstering the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The long-term essentiality of the alliance to Japan’s security and prosperity cannot be overemphasized. Since former Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama made it clear while in office that the alliance should be “firmly maintained,” more than 90 percent of the Japanese people believe the same way.

It is true that many Japanese criticize U.S. policy and opposed the U.S.-led war against Iraq. But ask them whether they wish to see an end to the Japan-U.S. alliance and their usual answer is: “Never. I’m not saying anything like that.”

It should be clear that, to maintain the alliance, Japan should not and cannot withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Democratic Party of Japan, if it takes the reins of government, will not dare undermine the alliance by pulling out SDF troops just because the noncombat area to which they were originally dispatched has now become a combat area — reasoning that applies only in Japan.

The DPJ seems to oppose everything the government says simply because it has no chance of taking power. That is an irresponsible attitude. Indeed, the party is behaving in much the same way as the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party.

The multinational force is stationed in Iraq at the official invitation of the Iraqi government. Japan must become a member of it to continue SDF deployment. However, Japanese control over SDF duties would be compromised if the troops came under its direct command; therefore, the SDF joined the multinational force with qualifications.

I welcome Koizumi’s decision precisely because it is based on the common-sense judgment that troop withdrawal will not serve Japan’s long-term interests. In effect, he has told the nation: “I have made the decision. Subordinates will work out details.”

Past leaders of Japan all too often have failed to take such a stand. Having missed the moment of decision, the nation has usually received little international credit for its contributions.

Koizumi dispatched only several hundred troops — a much smaller force than other allies sent — to a noncombat area. Yet this half-response has still won U.S. praise and helped strengthen the alliance. He is lucky that a number of Japanophiles are in the Bush administration. His decision, though, has enhanced this luck in the interests of the Japanese nation.

Personally, I hope that troop deployment in this manner will not happen again. The government says SDF soldiers will come under “the headquarters of the multinational force but not its command.” In light of international common sense, such reasoning just won’t fly.

It is easy to imagine likely American and British reactions: “What kind of nonsense is this?”

Japan hands will likely explain: “Japan is always like this. You’d better listen to them.” So they all come around to conclude: “OK. Japan has its way.”

For good measure, Japan seeks a narrow self-interest: safety. Japan is willing to send troops only to places where they won’t find themselves in harm’s way. It is a shame that Japanese diplomats should have to negotiate from such a position. It is a shame not only to the negotiators, but also to Japan as a responsible member of the international community.

The problem, of course, is the right to collective self-defense. The official constitutional interpretation is that Japan has the right, but is prohibited from exercising it. Japan should eliminate the ambiguity so that it can act as a respectable player on the international scene. The problem has been managed, more or less, this time around. It should be resolved before the next challenge.