Prime Minister Right To Clarify Government’s Support For the U.S.

March 3rd, 2003

At a press conference on March 20, the day the U.S.-led coalition began its military action in Iraq, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi clearly expressed Japan’s support for the United States.

“The United States is the only country that has committed itself to deeming any military strike against Japan as an attack on the United States itself. We should always bear in mind that this constitutes a key deterrent to other countries considering the use of force against this country,” he said.

In a telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush the following day, the prime minister reportedly said he was well aware Bush had decided to start the military action at the risk of sacrifices of American lives. He said it was, therefore, only natural for Japan to support the decision, and went on to explain that he had done his best to obtain public understanding of his stance at a question-and-answer session in the Diet that lasted deep into the previous night. He told Bush he firmly believes the United States is Japan’s indispensable ally and that he would like Japan to be a trustworthy ally of the United States.

Has any prime minister since the end of World War II stated the momentous significance of the Japan-U.S. alliance as resolutely as Koizumi?

Change Takes Time

These days many people may struggle to understand that the very word “alliance” was politically taboo until 1981, 30 years after the start of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In a joint statement at the close of a summit meeting between Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki and U.S. President Ronald Reagan that year, the alliance was indirectly referred to as a “relationship of allies.”

The Asahi Shimbun, in an editorial, castigated Suzuki over the statement, arguing that he had pushed “Japan down a dangerous slope of subservience to the United States.”

Suzuki, apparently flustered by such reactions, said the Japan-U.S. pact “has no military implications.” The comment, which even at that time was widely regarded as outrageous, exposed the prime minister to ridicule.

After more than 20 years, I cannot help but be impressed by the great distance Japan has come, although the speed of change has been glacierlike. At the same time, I applaud Koizumi for having the courage to candidly state his position.

The prime minister also is maintaining a firm stance on the issue in the Diet.

Compared with the prime minister’s stately way of expressing his beliefs in Diet sessions, opposition camp members seem intent on objecting simply for the sake of objecting.

Jiyuto (Liberal Party), if it were a ruling coalition member, would be certain to side with the United States, to the same degree or more than New Komeito, one of the two coalition parties.

The biggest opposition party, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), likely would follow the same path.

It is difficult to imagine Minshuto leader Naoto Kan being more left-wing than the left-wingers of the defunct Japan Socialist Party. When one considers that Tomiichi Murayama, a socialist party left-winger, announced a policy of “firmly maintaining the Japan-U.S. security framework” when he became prime minister in 1994, it is not difficult to imagine Minshuto’s likely direction.

Backing of U.S. Indisputable

I believe that as far as a great majority of intellectuals in this country are concerned, the issue of whether to back the United States is already resolved.

In a symposium open to the public earlier this month, Tokyo University Prof. Akihiko Tanaka convincingly stated what he considers three key factors to keep in mind when considering a war in Iraq:

— A U.S. invasion of Iraq would be legitimate.

— A U.N. Security Council resolution approving an attack on Iraq would be preferable, but not necessary.

— Japan should throw its support behind the United States.

Another Tokyo University panelist, Prof. Shinichi Kitaoka, supported Tanaka’s statements.

After they spoke, I could not stop myself from saying: “In days past, the public would have felt enlightened on reading reports written by Tokyo University professors of political science that were published in the city news pages of newspapers about events of great significance at home and abroad. Since then, however, the law school of Tokyo University has adopted a leftist stance and lost authority to the extent that almost nobody paid attention to its views. This era, however, has now ended. Therefore, I believe the Iraq issue is practically solved, as these two Tokyo University professors have just settled major points of contention on the issue.”

Variety Show Syndrome

Meanwhile, the popularity of television news and variety shows continues to soar. People who are featured on such shows usually for chattering about entertainment world gossip offer off-the-cuff remarks about more serious problems from the viewpoint of the so-called person in the street. Even if university professors and other experts are invited to appear on such programs, they are seldom given time to show on their expertise. Should an expert be given only a few minutes to make comments in a logical and convincing way, it would become obvious that the shallow arguments of the less-well informed panelists who tend to appeal to viewer’s emotions are useless.

Nevertheless, it seems most people, while interested in such shows, are at heart aware that variety show-type arguments often fall short.

This is why Koizumi’s strong resolve regarding the Iraq war has been accepted more or less favorably by the public.

This makes us ponder anew how political thoughts and opinion among Japanese are changed: Public opinion in this country can hardly be changed by the initiative of any one leader or group.

Rather, a new way of thinking emerges when it is already adopted by the majority of the public and when a leader is courageous enough to express that opinion publicly.

Koizumi’s statements would not have won public favor 20 years ago, but today they are favorably accepted by a wide spectrum of the public.

Given this, there remains a ray of hope that Japanese society may be able to gradually proceed in the right direction.

The prime minister’s statements merit praise because they are geared to meet the best interests of the country.

Before Koizumi made the statement, Cabinet secretariat bureaucrats were preparing a draft of his speech. They set out to review the U.N. resolutions relevant to the Iraq war and explain why it was important to the international community that Japan take measures against terrorism. The materials were intended to respond to the type of questions asked in news and variety show programs, such as “Should the U.S.-led attack on Iraq be deemed legitimate?” and “Can the attack be called justified without a U.N. resolution?”

Of course, due consideration should be paid to such questions.

Given the momentous importance of the Iraq problem to the international community, the prime minister, who is responsible for maintaining the security and prosperity of the people, should not spend time engaging in arguments about the wrongs and rights as if from a third-party point of view.

No Room For Choosing

When considering safeguarding the nation’s future, this natural resources-poor island nation has no alternative but to maintain cooperation with the Anglo-Americans who prevail over the Seven Seas. That is the fact of life in the 150 years since Japan opened the gate to the outside world.

There is no doubt that, in Japanese modern history, the period during which security, prosperity and freedom of in Japan were secured was limited to the 20 years the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the following 10 years until the Manchurian Incident and the half-century of the current Japan-U.S. alliance.

However, constant efforts are needed to maintain an alliance–essentially a pact of cooperation between two countries with different races, histories, geographies and other conditions.

The prime minister’s statements are undoubtedly conducive to maintaining and strengthening the alliance with the United States.

However, it would be dangerous to be content with the current situation.

We must remember that Japan’s policy of cooperating with the United States has an inherent glitch in that this nation cannot extend military cooperation.

Things are all right as far as the Iraq-related issues are concerned, in part because Washington, seeking to avoid being seen as acting unilaterally, has listed the countries supporting its actions without focusing on details of Japan’s cooperation.

Another reason is that the Bush administration includes officials well versed in Japanese affairs who laud Japan’s every offer of expanded cooperation and frequently offer the nation words of encouragement.

This is a rare situation that could never have been hoped for under the previous U.S. administration. Japan should not take the current circumstances for granted.

The only major Japan-U.S. issue yet to be addressed in earnest is that of Japan’s right to exercise collective self-defense.

Hitherto, the majority of intellectuals in Japan have held common opinions.

If political leaders are strong enough to face the problem squarely, the public may be ready to support a move to allow the nation to exercise the right to collective defense.

I hope such developments are realized and the government can change its conventional position on the issue while in the process of making provisions for a possible crisis on the Korean Peninsula.